On the eve of the California recall election, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial campaign was responsible for using Los Angeles and national media to perpetrate a dirty trick against a Hollywood stuntwoman after she accused him of groping her. Spurred by a provocative e-mail sent by Schwarzenegger campaign spokesman Sean Walsh, some local and national television and radio personalities broadcast false information that the woman, Rhonda Miller, had a six-page rap sheet of felony arrests and convictions when the truth was she has never been in trouble with the law. The misinformation that she had a criminal record on file in L.A. Superior Court would not be corrected until after the election.
What is most astonishing about the smear by the Schwarzenegger campaign is not just how little publicity it’s received, but that neither the governor-elect nor his representatives have yet to apologize to Miller. And Walsh by all appearances was not fired or disciplined for his action.
Instead, Walsh confirmed to L.A. Weekly on Monday that he is now continuing to work for Schwarzenegger as part of the transition team. When reached on his cell phone, he described sitting next to the governor-elect’s spokesman, H.D. Palmer, while driving through San Diego County for Schwarzenegger’s visits to wildfire-devastated areas.
A well-known California Republican political consultant who was a spokesman for former Governor Pete Wilson and then for former Secretary of State Bill Jones’ failed 2002 gubernatorial campaign, Walsh emerged during the recall race as Schwarzenegger’s default voice by virtue of the candidate’s unwillingness to interact personally and substantively with much of the media. But the e-mail’s very existence robs Republicans of the so-called high road they claimed during the Clinton sex scandals when they accused Bill and Hillary and their staff of defaming the women who came forward about Clinton’s sexual conduct.
Miller tells L.A. Weekly she is uncertain what legal action, if any, she plans to pursue because she is still “too upset and shell-shocked. Because I don’t know how to unfix this. It’s just the most horrifying thing to hear that you’re a prostitute and a felon and have all these grand larcenies. I didn’t even know what grand larceny was before this. Then suddenly, it’s everywhere.” She recalls feeling horrified: “‘Oh, my God, what are my family and my friends going to think? Am I going to work again in Hollywood?’ All of that was going on. It was like somebody had cracked a bottle on my head.”
Miller first surfaced around midday on October 6, the day before the recall election, front and center at a news conference called by Los Angeles lawyer Gloria Allred, California’s pugilistic defender of women’s rights. Miller told the assembled media that Schwarzenegger groped her on two occasions while she was a stunt double in the films The Terminator and True Lies.
Soon after the Miller-Allred news conference ended, an e-mail addressed to “Reporters and Editors” was sent “FROM Sean Walsh/Schwarzenegger Campaign.” The e-mail stated:
“RE RHONDA MILLER & GLORIA ALLRED PARTISAN ATTACK. It has come to our attention from the media that you can access court documents from the followiing [sic] web site http//www.lasuperiorcourt.org/Criminal/. You will have to pay a $4.75 on-line charge to access/search the site. Once you have accessed, the site, type ‘Rhonda’ in the ‘first name’ field, and ‘Miller’ in ‘last name’ field. We have to believe that as a lawyer, Gloria would have thoroughly checked the facts and background of the individual she presented at a news conference today. When one reviews Ms. Allred’s background and her campaign contributions, we will let you in the media decide whether her role in today’s event was yet another attempt to glom onto television cameras, or it was her attempt to support the partisan attacks against Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
Immediately, KFI’s high-profile afternoon drive-time host John Kobylt read on the air what he purported to be “Rhonda Miller’s rap sheet.” He claimed she had convictions for prostitution (1990, 1993, 1997, 1999), forgery (1989), drug possession (1989, 1993, 1998), attempted drug possession (2001) and reckless driving (1987), as well as many other arrests.
That same day, Allred was ambushed about “Rhonda Miller’s rap sheet” on MSNBC’s Scarborough Country by MSNBC analyst Kim Serafin, the talk-show weekend host for KABC radio in Los Angeles and a former Republican operative for Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Richard Riordan. Serafin said she had “late-breaking news” during a discussion of the multiwoman groping accusations against Schwarzenegger: “This woman, Rhonda Miller, I just heard on the way over here, she has 17 convictions, 16 prostitution convictions, six drug charges convictions. She’s been convicted of theft, of felony. Once we start finding out, when we have more than a day before the election to hear about these charges, we are finding out that maybe these stories are not totally true.”
By following the Schwarzenegger campaign e-mail’s instructions, a rap sheet belonging to a Rhonda Miller does come up in the search. But using a birth date proves that it doesn’t belong to Rhonda Miller the stunt double. In other words, Kobylt and Serafin were duped by Walsh’s e-mail.
It took 10 days after the spurious e-mail and nine days after the election for MSNBC conservative talk-show host Joe Scarborough, the former Florida Republican congressman who supported the actor’s candidacy, to decry the Schwarzenegger campaign’s smear against Miller on his October 16 show.
“And I think it’s instructive that we look at what happens in campaigns. Republicans attacked Bill Clinton in the 1990s for slandering women that dared to come forward and accuse him of sexual harassment,” said Scarborough in the same segment that allowed Allred to rebut the smear campaign. “And you know what? Now you have Republicans, I think, doing something that’s very, very troubling and disgusting.” Scarborough further noted on the air that when his show called Schwarzenegger’s campaign about the memo’s total inaccuracy, “They told us that it wasn’t their responsibility to confirm the woman’s identity and that they have nothing to apologize for.”
Clear Channel–owned KFI’s John and Ken Show host John Kobylt, who used part of his broadcast time to brutally denounce Miller on the basis of the Walsh e-mail the night before the election, has issued a formal on-air retraction, correction and apology. But Kobylt’s retraction failed to acknowledge that Schwarzenegger’s campaign was responsible for the smear in the first place. The John and Ken Show heavily promoted Schwarzenegger’s candidacy and even emceed one of Schwarzenegger’s campaign rallies during the recall election. The apology also followed what can only be described as an on-air screaming match between Allred and Kobylt.
Robin Bertolucci, KFI’s program director, issued the following statement to L.A. Weekly: “On Monday, October 6, the John and Ken Show, using information available at the time, discussed allegations that Rhonda Miller had a criminal record. On the evening of Wednesday, October 8, having fully researched the situation, KFI-AM’s talk-show host John Kobylt made an on-air correction, clarifying that Rhonda Miller in fact did not have a criminal record, and apologized for the misinformation that aired.”
Other news organizations that made brief references to Miller’s alleged criminal record removed the information from online versions or transcripts.
After her news conference with Allred, Miller went home and tuned into the media coverage. “I turned on the radio and was listening to this ‘news’ about me. And I thought, wait a minute, WAIT A MINUTE.’ And when I got home, I turned on the TV set, and oh my God. I was in shock. I was in disbelief. What they were saying about me was horrible and not true.”
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And then, “I just stood there and cried and cried.”
Walsh repeatedly promised to discuss his e-mail by L.A. Weekly’s deadline, but didn’t. However, he is already on the record — after being queried by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (of all places!) — as acknowledging: “We did not make any allegations. I wrote that memo myself. I wrote it very, very carefully.”
Kobylt is still part of the KFI team. Serafin is still being used on MSNBC’s Scarborough Country as a news analyst. Miller, a veteran stuntwoman since 1990 who maintains she has enjoyed steady work, reports not a single call to hire her since the news conference and rap-sheet allegation.
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