Analysis: After news breaks of an affair and out-of-wedlock child, media falls over itself trying to unearth fresh dirt
When news broke last week that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver were separating after nearly 25 years of marriage, it was clear that the story wouldn't begin and end with a few heavily stage-managed public statements.
On Tuesday, the picture of a marriage in free fall grew very sordid indeed. The Los Angeles Times, which broke the story of the Schwarzeneggers' breakup, forced the ex-governor to admit he had fathered a child out of wedlock with a former household staffer.
Even more shocking was the revelation that the child had been conceived over a decade ago and kept secret from Shriver until after Schwarzenegger left the Governor's office.
Tales of Schwarzenegger's infidelities had been rampant for years, but the sheer scope and size of the betrayal surprised the country. Admission of an affair would have registered as barely a blip, but news of a child instantly called to mind such now legendary scandals as Eliot Spitzer's call girl-inspired resignation and John Edwards' own love child.
Perhaps the parallels were so strong, that Spitzer opted not to even mention Schwarzenegger on Tuesday's episode of his CNN show "Arena."
And it pushed off the front page a series of other sex scandals, and thrust to the side any news from Cannes of Schwarzenegger representatives hawking rights to Terminator projects.
Among those likely drafting thank you notes to "The Governator" are International Monetary Fund Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn and former Nevada Senator John Ensign. The Schwarzenegger imbroglio relegated reports of Strauss-Kahn's alleged rape of a hotel maid to, at the very least, below the fold status.
In what is shaping up to be a month that may shatter the record for political sex scandals, it also managed to make the Senate Ethics report on Senator Ensign's affair with the wife of his chief-of-staff seem like a distant memory.
Oh, and that controversy over the rapper Common's White House invitation; consider that consigned to the dustheap of the 24-Hour scandal cycle.
Within hours of the news breaking around midnight on Tuesday, TMZ claimed it had been sitting on the out-of-wedlock baby news for five days, but couldn't get confirmation. With pressure mounting to produce its own scoop, and not play catch-up to a legacy publication, Harvey Levin's digital scandal sheet alleged that Schwarzenegger had used his Santa Monica office as a love nest. It reported that the "Terminator" star met several women in the banal looking brick building for trysts there.
Not to be outdone, Gawker pounced with its own exclusive. Under the headline "Is This Arnold Schwarzenegger's Love Child," Nick Denton's gossip site claimed that it had a photo of a former Brea California high school football player that was the governor's son. It backed off the claim slightly after Schwarzenegger biographer Wendy Leigh told the site that the photo Gawker had obtained was the governor's son, but it wasn't the same out-of-wedlock child that the Los Angeles Times had revealed. That dangled the possibility that Schwarzenegger might have not one, but two illegitimate children, and left Radar Online, Star and the rest of the tabloid world salivating.
The Gawker and TMZ reports made it clear that Schwarzenegger's transgressions are likely of the slow-burning variety. Expect more former lovers, both real and fame-seeking, to start peddling their own tales in the days and weeks ahead.
But as the Hollywood media revved up for another round of who did he screw, there were glimmers of the human tragedy playing out behind closed doors.
Shriver's statement spoke of her concern for how the fall-out would singe the couple's four children. Two of the Schwarzeneggers' children, Patrick and Katherine, took to Twitter to weigh in on the scandal.
Patrick Schwarzenegger tweeted: "some days you feel like sh*t, some days you want to quit and just be normal for a bit, yet i love my family till death do us apart."
Older sister Katherine, meanwhile, tweeted: "This is definitely not easy but I appreciate your love and support as i begin to heal and move forward in life. I will always love my family!"
In a rare bit of television programming irony, "The Good Wife," the acclaimed CBS drama that successfully mines the Spitzer affair for great drama airs Tuesday night. In that series, Julianna Margulies' wronged politician's wife escapes the aftermath of a political scandal by returning to work as a lawyer.
There will almost invariably be further embarrassments for the Schwarzenegger clan, but hopefully in life, like fiction, there can be second acts.