Newspaper Claims That Arnold Schwarzenegger Groped Women

As former bodybuilder and popular film actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was running for governor of California, a number of women told reporters that he had harassed or abused them years before. The Los Angeles Times published a series about the accusations, but Schwarzenegger won the election nevertheless. He promised to have the charges investigated but did not follow through on his plan.

Summary of Event

According to biographer Laurence Leamer, the Austrian-born bodybuilder and film actor Arnold Schwarzenegger had a habit of sexual directness with women and, while usually charming, sometimes bullied his companions. Moving to the United States in 1968, Schwarzenegger soon became an American success. He arrived poor and could barely speak English. Through talent, good looks, hard work, business acumen, and skillful promotion, he became a multimillionaire. After breakups with two live-in girlfriends, he married the broadcast journalist Maria Shriver, a Democrat and a niece of former U.S. president John F. Kennedy. [kw]Schwarzenegger Groped Women, Newspaper Claims That Arnold (Oct. 2, 2003)
Schwarzenegger, Arnold
Los Angeles Times;and Arnold Schwarzenegger[Schwarzenegger]
Sexual harassment;and Arnold Schwarzenegger[Schwarzenegger]
Schwarzenegger, Arnold
Los Angeles Times;and Arnold Schwarzenegger[Schwarzenegger]
Sexual harassment;and Arnold Schwarzenegger[Schwarzenegger]
[g]United States;Oct. 2, 2003: Newspaper Claims That Arnold Schwarzenegger Groped Women[03340]
[c]Publishing and journalism;Oct. 2, 2003: Newspaper Claims That Arnold Schwarzenegger Groped Women[03340]
[c]Politics;Oct. 2, 2003: Newspaper Claims That Arnold Schwarzenegger Groped Women[03340]
[c]Sex crimes;Oct. 2, 2003: Newspaper Claims That Arnold Schwarzenegger Groped Women[03340]
[c]Sex;Oct. 2, 2003: Newspaper Claims That Arnold Schwarzenegger Groped Women[03340]
[c]Public morals;Oct. 2, 2003: Newspaper Claims That Arnold Schwarzenegger Groped Women[03340]
[c]Women’s issues;Oct. 2, 2003: Newspaper Claims That Arnold Schwarzenegger Groped Women[03340]
[c]Hollywood;Oct. 2, 2003: Newspaper Claims That Arnold Schwarzenegger Groped Women[03340]
Carroll, John
Shriver, Maria
Estrich, Susan

Schwarzenegger, a Republican, held positions on social issues to the left of most members of the party but championed business and befriended the party’s elite. During George H. W. Bush’s administration, he chaired the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Then, as age worked against his ability to continue in action films, Schwarzenegger considered running in 2002 against Davis, Gray Gray Davis, the incumbent governor of Schwarzenegger’s adopted state of California. Schwarzenegger changed his mind, however, after an article in the March, 2001, issue of Premiere magazine reported that Schwarzenegger sexually harassed women and after the National Enquirer
National Enquirer published an exposé of a sexual relationship it claimed he had with a former actress.

Nevertheless, Schwarzenegger played such a big role in the 2002 election in campaigning successfully to provide state money for after-school programs that when, in the summer of 2003, the recently re-elected Davis found himself subject to a recall vote scheduled for October 7 of that year, Schwarzenegger had become a prominent figure in California politics. Having received his wife’s consent to run for governor, he announced his candidacy on Tonight Show, The (television)
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on August 6.

Schwarzenegger knew that his fame as an actor would help him in the campaign but that his reputation as a womanizer would hurt, as would his inexperience with the intricacies of California government and the attitude of many voters that a celebrity candidate should not be taken seriously. He tried to keep from verbally stumbling by avoiding questions from the press, which he considered hostile.

Meanwhile, with the announcement of Schwarzenegger’s candidacy, John Carroll, editor of the Los Angeles Times, began his newspaper’s investigation of Schwarzenegger’s alleged misdeeds with women, assigning reporters to determine whether the rumors were true. Carroll said that he believed the newspaper had a responsibility to report accurately the character of a candidate for the state’s highest office and that it was better to publish the truth before voters cast their ballots rather than afterward. The newspaper, however, had opposed the recall in a staff editorial, and Carroll knew that supporters of Schwarzenegger would claim reportorial bias if the Los Angeles Times published articles accusing Schwarzenegger of inappropriate conduct against women.

After much effort to discover and substantiate accusations from various women, the Los Angeles Times published the first article of its series on what came to be called Gropegate. That article, “Women Say Schwarzenegger Groped, Humiliated Them,” ran on Thursday, October 2, only five days before the election. It referred to incidents alleged to have occurred when Schwarzenegger was single and also when he was married. Several of the women who spoke to reporters did so only after the newspaper agreed to conceal their names; in each of those cases, the reporters received the assurance of a family member or a friend that the alleged victim had revealed the incident long before the campaign for governor began.

One woman claimed that Schwarzenegger stuck his arm under her skirt and grabbed her buttocks without her consent. Other women claimed he made unwelcome, crude sexual suggestions to them. Among the women who claimed that Schwarzenegger had grabbed their breasts were two who allowed their names to be used: E. Laine Stockton, recounting a 1975 incident in California, and Anna Richardson, recounting, as she had for Premiere, an incident she said occurred in England in 2000. Another woman at the scene in England remembered the incident differently, saying that Richardson, and not Schwarzenegger, was the person who was being sexually forward. The article also quoted a spokesperson for Schwarzenegger, who denied any sexual impropriety by the candidate and accused Democrats of trying to wreck his campaign.

The Los Angeles Times article of October 2 was followed by more claims of sexual harassment by Schwarzenegger, and the paper continued its series through the election and in the weeks following. By the time of the election, the newspaper had presented the cases of more than one dozen women who claimed Schwarzenegger harassed or abused them.


Schwarzenegger denied the allegations against him. However, on the morning in which the first Los Angeles Times article appeared, he did acknowledge his poor behavior toward women in the social atmospheres of bodybuilding culture and Hollywood and agreed that he likely hurt the feelings of others. Eager to put his misbehavior as a bodybuilder and actor behind him, he offered a blanket apology to those he offended.

The new governor, however, also called the Los Angeles Times series an act of dirty politics, and many people agreed. One commentator who sided with him was a feminist and a Democrat, Susan Estrich, whose op-ed attacking the paper for its series’ original allegations appeared on October 3, 2003, in the same newspaper. A professor of law, Estrich noted that none of the women mentioned as victims had filed charges, and that the alleged incidents from years past did not constitute sexual harassment.

Most conservatives questioned the motivation of the Los Angeles Times in publishing lewd stories about the leading Republican candidate only a few days before the election, even though critics acknowledged that Schwarzenegger deserved his boorish reputation. With the exception of Estrich, liberals, and certainly feminists, rejoiced at what they considered the exposure of sexist villainy. As for the electorate as a whole, however, the scandal seemed irrelevant. According to Leamer, it was Shriver who reassured voters about her husband’s character. The vote on October 7 went against Davis, and Californians chose Schwarzenegger as his replacement.

On November 6, eleven days before his inauguration, Schwarzenegger announced that he was hiring a private investigative firm to look into his alleged misconduct. Many observers doubted whether any firm he hired could be impartial. As matters turned out, however, no investigation took place. On December 8, Schwarzenegger announced that he had called it off, asserting that it would solve nothing and would merely provide fodder for his political foes.

In 2006, Schwarzenegger and two of his aides settled a libel Libel cases;and Arnold Schwarzenegger[Schwarzenegger] suit filed against them by alleged victim Richardson, thus removing from media attention what little remained of the scandal that began in 2003. On November 7, he was reelected governor of California.

In earlier generations, most American political careers would have been ruined by accusations such as those leveled against Schwarzenegger. The situation was reminiscent of the scandal involving Bill Clinton and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky when Clinton had been president during the late 1990’s. Schwarzenegger’s recovery from the allegations made against him confirmed that public attitudes of voters toward the sexual behavior of political leaders were changing, and sexual misconduct was no longer necessarily a disqualification to holding public office. Schwarzenegger, Arnold
Los Angeles Times;and Arnold Schwarzenegger[Schwarzenegger]
Sexual harassment;and Arnold Schwarzenegger[Schwarzenegger]

Further Reading

  • Estrich, Susan. “A Deplorable October Surprise.” Los Angeles Times, October 3, 2003. Condemns the Los Angeles Times for publishing its scandalous story against Schwarzenegger of the previous day. Estrich’s article is especially telling because she is a feminist and a Democrat; Schwarzenegger is a Republican.
  • Leamer, Laurence. Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2005. A well-researched, balanced account of Schwarzenegger’s youth and his careers as a bodybuilder, actor, and politician—with much discussion of his behavior with women.
  • Mathews, Joe. The People’s Machine: Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Rise of Blockbuster Democracy. New York: PublicAffairs, 2006. A Los Angeles Times reporter’s detailed story, in its historical context, of Schwarzenegger as a political aspirant, gubernatorial candidate, and governor.
  • Smolkin, Rachel. “The Women.” American Journalism Review, December-January, 2004. A sympathetic discussion of how the Los Angeles Times investigated the claims of groping, the standards used by the newspaper, and the decisions of reporters and editors.
  • Welkos, Robert W., Gary Cohn, and Carla Hall. “Women Say Schwarzenegger Groped, Humiliated Them.” Los Angeles Times, October 2, 2003. The article that broke the story of allegations against Schwarzenegger’s physical and verbal mistreatment and harassment of women.

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