SCANDAL

05.18.11

Exposing Arnold’s Housekeeper

Why, exactly, are the media outing the woman who gave birth to the out-of-wedlock son?

Well, it’s everywhere.

If you want to know the name of the housekeeper who bore Arnold Schwarzenegger’s love child—and take a look at a picture of her in a white coat, white pants and tight-fitting pink top—it’s a click or two away.

Thanks to Radar Online, which revealed the woman’s identity in a joint investigation with Star magazine, every media outlet on the planet can now satisfy your curiosity.

But should they?

The housekeeper, who was recently let go by the former California governor, did not ask to be at the center of a white-hot political scandal. She has made no statement, filed no lawsuit, trotted out no publicist, sold nothing to the tabloids, made no appearance on Oprah. She had an affair with her boss and got pregnant, but she is as far from a public figure as you can imagine. What gives the media the right to obliterate her privacy?

And to point out the obvious, there is a boy of around 14 involved. Thankfully, the Radar photo that went viral blurs his face, but if you know the mom’s name, it’s not going to be too hard to figure out who the kid is.

The Daily Beast, while linking to the Radar piece, initially published the woman’s name and picture until Executive Editor Edward Felsenthal made the decision Tuesday night not to do so.

I agree with the decision. But apparently we’re in the minority. The Los Angeles Times, which broke the story and spoke to the housekeeper (who initially denied the story and then had no comment after Schwarzenegger acknowledged paternity) has not published her name. Nor has The Washington Post. MSNBC and CNN have not identified her on the air.

But ABC has named the woman and shown a different picture of her on Good Morning America. Fox News has shown the photo on the air. CBS has run the photo online. The New York Times, usually so reticent on sex-scandal stories, has named her and run the picture. So have the Huffington Post, Yahoo, AOL, TMZ and countless other outlets. There may come a point where it’s been so widely disseminated that it’s pointless to stick your finger in the media dike. I don’t think we’re quite there yet.

Contrast this with the handling of a simultaneous sex scandal, that involving Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund. No American media outlet of which I’m aware has named the maid who says he sexually assaulted her at a Manhattan hotel. But a handful of French news organizations—including Paris Match and the French edition of Slate—have named the single mother from Guinea.

The case is very different. DSK is being held at Riker’s. The woman says she was attacked--her lawyer has spoken publicly about the investigation—and there is a long tradition in the American press not to name alleged victims of sexual assault. (It’s not airtight, though, as the 1991 flap over NBC and The New York Times identifying the accuser in the rape case against William Kennedy Smith—he was acquitted—made clear.) But if she is deserving of privacy, why isn’t Arnold’s former housekeeper?

The honest answer is that the Schwarzenegger story is so red hot, given the betrayal of Maria Shriver, that it has melted whatever restraint the media might ordinarily have mustered.

Correction: An earlier version of this story suggested that The Daily Beast refrained from publishing the housekeeper’s name. Her photo had been posted only briefly, as the story said, but her name was reported throughout the day Wednesday until a decision was made to take it down.