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HIStory Repeats Itself? 16 Women Accuse Schwarzenegger of Sexual Misconduct, We Look Back At the Eerily Similar Case of Sen. Bob Packwood

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We speak with investigative reporter Florence Graves about revealing scores of sexual misconduct accusations in 1992 against then-Oregon Senator Bob Packwood and about Republican gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger who is expected to win today’s historic recall election in California despite facing similar accusations. [Includes transcript]

Click here to read to full transcript At this point 16 women have come out with accusations of sexual misconduct against Republican gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The L.A. Times reported last week that three of the women described their surprise and discomfort when Schwarzenegger grabbed their breasts. Another said he reached under her skirt and gripped her buttocks. Another woman said Schwarzenegger groped her and tried to remove her bathing suit in a hotel elevator. Another said Schwarzenegger pulled her onto his lap and asked whether a certain sexual act had ever been performed on her.

Today the L.A. Times is reporting another woman has come forward and said Schwarzenegger pulled up her shirt, photographed her breasts and touched them as she yelled at him to stop and fought him off. She also said he touched her breasts again when she worked with him years later.

Today as eyes turn towards today’s historic recall election in California we’ll take a look at another story that is eerily similar. A man who was accused by scores of women of sexual misconduct and rose to become one of the most powerful members of the senate–former Oregon Senator Bob Packwood.

As a Republican Senator, Packwood had a record as a leading advocate of women’s rights during his 24 years in the Senate and he had a history of hiring women, promoting them and supporting their careers even after they left his office.

But as investigative reporter Florence Graves revealed in the Washington Post in 1992, Packwood had a long history of abusing his power over women that worked for him. Graves wrote of more than 40 women who said the senator made unwanted sexual advances to them. The allegations spanning the years 1969 to 1990 ranged from awkward kisses to aggressive touching that created fear.

Packwood’s initial denials of the allegations to the Post in late 1992 and his attempts to discredit the women he accosted succeeded in delaying publication of the Post article about his sexual misconduct until three weeks after he was safely reelected to a fifth term.

Graves’ exposure of Packwood’s sexual misconduct and abuse of power eventually led to an historic Senate Ethics Committee investigation and Packwood’s subsequent resignation in 1995.

  • Florence George Graves, investigative reporter and editor whose reporting at the Washington Post where she exposed sexual misconduct and abuse of power allegations against Oregon Senator Bob Packwood, which led to an historic Senate Ethics Committee investigation and his resignation. She founded the nationally circulated political and investigative Common Cause Magazine. Her most recent reporting and research focus primarily on the intersection of sex, gender and power in Washington politics and media.


AMY GOODMAN: Today we turn to Florence George Graves, an investigative reporter and now a fellow at Brandeis University.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s good to have you with us. As you’ve been listening and watching the reports of what’s happening in California, your thoughts about the case that you broke more than a decade ago and what we’re seeing today.

FLORENCE GRAVES: Déjà vu. I’m just stunned by the similarities between these two cases.

The bottom line I think on both of them is that this is about power. It’s about a sense of entitlement, about people in power, in this case men in power, who’ve never been — who are not challenged, who have so much power that people are not willing to challenge them, not willing to say no, not willing to appoint them to higher ups because of fear. Fear that they will be ruined, their careers will be ruined, or their families’ livelihood will be threatened.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you to go back in time, because some of our listeners may have been, well, let’s say less than 10 years old, may not even know who Bob Packwood is.

The similarities going from exactly what the accusations Were, to this whole controversy, especially Fox is making a lot out of this, saying how dare the “L.A. Times” do this story just before the election; though some might argue that with the recall election having so little time to begin with, anything is just before the election.

FLORENCE GRAVES: That’s true. Well, the similarities and the kind of behavior are striking. Packwood did exactly those kinds of things: reached under people’s blouses, grabbed their body parts, grabbed their breasts, and in some cases, came on to them in such a way that they felt like it was an assault.

I remember one woman telling Senate investigators, this is in Senate documents, that she felt completely threatened. She said, I don’t want to call it rape, because I don’t know at what point he was going to be willing to stop.

And she was only rescued by a friend that she had called when she realized she was going to be — he had asked her to stay late to work. She was only in her 20’s at the time.

So what’s similar is that these are women who usually have no power, and that the person in power, such as Packwood or Schwarzenegger, feel that they have a sense of entitlement to do whatever they want because no one’s going to report them. The fear is so great.

I know Arnold Schwarzenegger said, where there’s smoke there’s fire. And, you know, I would say, based on my experience reporting the Packwood case, where there’s smoke, there may be a forest fire, because women came out gradually over time.

It’s not as if these people really, you know, as you can tell in the L.A. Times story, were going to come out on their own.

They were found by the reporters; exactly the same case in the Packwood case. We found these women, we had heard rumors about Packwood’s behavior. This was finally a story, post-Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings, the supreme court nominee — until those historic hearings when she made allegations of sexual misconduct against Clarence Thomas, this was not a story in America. You could not have gotten the Packwood story in Washington Post or any other major newspaper. That’s something that people who were 10 years old then need to understand.

Most women do not complain. They do not go public.

In this case, women are coming out because: number one, they have been asked, they have been asked about their experiences, they have a forum; and number two, he’s seeking one of the most powerful offices in the country.

People have a right to know. In the case of Packwood, yes, the story was not run until after the election. The reason is that the story was not quite finished.

We confronted him, we were able to interview him on the Friday afternoon, late afternoon before the Tuesday election. At that time, he lied repeatedly and said none of this happened, these women are making this up, it’s not true, and this is a Democratic plot.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Of course, Schwarzenegger has started to move in that direction from originally sort of first implying that there may somebody truth to it, that these things happen, before he was sort of being a politician, to now recently beginning to deny the allegations.

Well, would you say that given the fact that obviously he was doing this in a period when he was a movie star, some of his supporters would like to say that it wasn’t while he was in an official government position, that it makes any difference at all, or do you see that these investigations, even if by chance he wins today, that these investigations will continue into his term of office?

FLORENCE GRAVES: Well, the issue is character. The issue is character, and the question, do I think it could continue if he’s elected? Absolutely, because what happened in the Packwood case is that he did exactly — the pattern is very similar.

He denied, before the story was published, he took responsibility — sort of took responsibility. He said, I’m not going to take issue with any of the women’s stories.

The article was printed, then a couple of weeks later, as the drum beat continued, people kept — outraged groups were saying this is not enough to say you’re not going to take issue.

He then held a press conference on Capitol Hill saying, I’m really sorry, but he then turned and said, you know what, I think some of these women’s stories have been concocted, we need to look into them, some of these women are not credible, etc., etc.

And so it’s the same kind of pattern. When he did that, more women started to come out. Women who had not cooperated with us at the Washington Post previously decided that they needed — that they felt a moral obligation to come out because he was saying these other women were lying, and they knew that they had had their own experiences.

So if he continues to deny vociferously, then he may find that he is in that same situation.

And as the pressure built, it led to a Senate investigation; more women continued to come out, and it resulted in Packwood’s forced resignation from the Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: There was a final problem for Packwood, wasn’t there, and that was, he kept a diary of his, either call them assaults or whatever it was, or molestations of women.

FLORENCE GRAVES: Well, he kept a diary for about 20 years every day of his most minute, you know, events in his life, including, you know, using hairspray on his hair to make it look good. And I emphasize this is about narcissism, as well as power. What he did, even as the investigation was going, he started taking notes about the investigation and about how, you know, so and so said this, so and so reminded me of this, that yes, I did tried to assault her, blah, blah, blah.

And then when the Senate subpoenaed the diaries, he altered them and gave them altered versions of the diaries. That was caught. I don’t remember the exact — someone who was reading them carefully realized that they sounded as if they had been altered, and there was, again, you know — this went all the way to the supreme court.

He challenged having his diaries turned over, going all the way to the Supreme Court. And yep, Amy, you’re right, I think in the end, the diaries, his own words, did him in.

AMY GOODMAN: I remember covering the 100 days of the — of the Republican congress of 1995, and how women gathered in the Senate swamp, and they unveiled thousands of names on petitions, and these were mainly Republican women from Oregon, because many of the women he had attacked were Republican women, the women around him. Not to mention, I think it was the Vice President of Narol, is that right, because she was a woman’s lobbyist and was lobbying him around issues of choice.

She felt she shouldn’t come forward because that would hurt women’s rights, because he was one of the few pro-choice Republicans.

And then when she learned of the young women, like the high school student she attacked, she was very sorry afterwards, because she realized that this was a pattern, it was just not her.

But those women finally saying, how could he have risen to the head of the finance committee, third most powerful man, as all of these allegations disclose to 50 I believe it was came forward, and they then marched from the Senate swamp to the Senate majority leader’s office, Robert Dole, and said, what are you going to do, because they were stalling on these hearings.

FLORENCE GRAVES: Right. I don’t think there were 50. I knew of 40, and 40 women never came forward. A few over 20 eventually came forward. Even though we knew of many others who could not come forward again because of the fear.

This was the first time in history that any woman — that more than one woman had gone on the record against a U.S. senator.

People really don’t understand how women do not ordinarily volunteer themselves for this role, and they usually, in the past, when they come forward, they had been destroyed.

There had not been a Senate investigation ever of this kind of behavior. And so I think what kept the Packwood story, I think you can really put your finger on it. What kept the Packwood story going as a story were the women’s groups out in Oregon, and a few, you know, in Washington, but mainly out in Oregon, who were demanding that something be done, who were saying, you know, just a blanket apology, 'Oh, I'm sorry if I offended someone, let’s move on, I get it now’. It was not going to be enough. And they would not let it go, and that eventually is what kept the momentum going and led to the Senate investigation and eventually his resignation.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And how do you assess the role so far of the press in covering this issue? Certainly the Los Angeles Times has been out front on it, but how do you assess it?

FLORENCE GRAVES: Well, I have read the L.A. Times stories. They seem, from my point of view, not having been the reporter on them, quite complete. You had asked me earlier about the question about whether or not they should have published at the time that they did. They published several days before the election. I think it was their responsibility to publish when the story was ready. And that’s exactly what the editor of the L.A. Times said.

In the cases of Packwood, because he delayed and lied, and we did not even have the women on the record at the time to use in the story at the time we interviewed him, we were most likely not going to be able to get that story done, and The Washington Post felt that no story should be published any later than Sunday before the Tuesday election. So he would have time to respond.

In this case, the L.A. Times had a very short period of time in which to do these stories, and I think the other thing that people don’t understand is the kind of work that has to go into documenting these stories.

The crosschecking, the looking into people’s corroborative witnesses, etc. You know, they’re so used to the National Enquirer you know, the sort of tabloidization of the media where anything goes, anything’s outs there.

AMY GOODMAN: Except now, we should point out, where the tabloids are not doing stories on Schwarzenegger.

FLORENCE GRAVES: That’s true. But in general, people have complained about the L.A. Times. They did a huge job in a very short period of time. And yes, I think when the story was ready and it was a few days, almost a week before the election, they had an obligation to print that story.

In terms of the other news media around the country, what I have noticed is that if you did not read the L.A. Times stories, you really do not have a good sense of just how serious and appalling the behavior was, because the other stories, with it not being, it’s a California story in their mind, they have not reported the kind of detail that was reported in the L.A. Times.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, we just have a few seconds left, for those people and the news media that is saying, yeah, these women wish Arnold Schwarzenegger neglect her paid attention to them in that way.

FLORENCE GRAVES: That’s ludicrous. I mean, that is really — no one wants to have their breasts grabbed. I mean, this is not affection; this is aggression, and very few women that I know of want an aggressive kind of sexual behavior.

AMY GOODMAN: Florence Graves, I want to thank you for being with us. Florence Graves together with Charles Shepherd exposed Senator Bob Packwood’s history, mistreatment of women in The Washington Post when he ran for office for a fifth term in 1992. He ultimately was forced to resign, though he dragged the whole country through it for three years in 1995.

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