Arnold Schwarzenegger: rebuilding a career – and battered reputation

The former California governor is on a media blitz to promote his memoirs, a second film career, and a new public policy institute with global aspirations. But first, he needs to win back a little respect.

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With a new memoir and five movies coming up, Arnold Schwarzenegger is hip deep in a comeback tour. The jewel in that crown was his Sunday night appearance on CBS’s venerable news magazine, “60 Minutes,” kicking off its 45th season with the interview of California’s former governor and star of the "Terminator" films.

The question lingering over the seven-time Mr. Universe and action-hero-turned-politician is: Can he regain not just career momentum but also the respect he so publicly lost when details of the son conceived with the family housekeeper became public knowledge?

The weather prediction for this tour appears to be: mostly sunny with a chance of showers.

Mr. Schwarzenegger knows what he is doing, says Bernard Luskin, president-elect for the Society for Media Psychology and Technology of the American Psychological Association. “Arnold will persist with the same aggressive ruthlessness that he has demonstrated with the other obsessive passions in his life.”

That means a campaign to keep himself in the public eye, making lots of money and getting attention.

As for how he landed such tony media real estate Sunday night, it helps to know that his book publisher, Simon and Schuster, is also a CBS property. Schwarzenegger's memoir, “Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story,” was released Monday.

Ultimately, however, “society gets to decide what is good or bad,” Professor Luskin points out.

Some people may be more willing to overlook Schwarzenegger's foibles because he is a former celebrity, says Ben Agger, director of the Center for Theory at the University of Texas, Arlington.   "We may assume that bodybuilders-turned-actors will have feet of clay. He may well be publicly redeemed if he seeks, not elective office, but talk-show host,” he says via e-mail.

Schwarzenegger is now in the company of “damaged” public figures, says Luskin. “The public may be willing to forget to some degree but will not forgive – so much as accept – as he attempts to remake himself,” he says.

Schwarzenegger has plenty of company, he adds.

“He now finds himself being compared to Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Baker, and others, each of whom is guilty of betrayal, lying publicly, public and family hypocrisy, and coverup,” says Luskin, adding that each of these men is “stumbling forward in a damaged but continuous ... altered reality.”

Mr. Clinton has probably succeeded more than the others, he adds.

But each is "working hard on some variation of career comeback," he says. "Each will succeed to some degree and each lives in his own state of denial and reality and is publicly accepted, warts and all.”

Some analysts suggest that Schwarzenegger is modeling himself after Clinton in reaching for respect beyond the entertainment arena. He launched his new think tank at the University of Southern California on Sept. 24, called the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy.

Schwarzenegger has always cast himself as pursuing the American dream, but given the importance of family values here, that image could cost him something now, says Kanessa Tixe, a partner at the Maven Firm, a public relations company in New York.

Schwarzenegger clearly wants to avoid discussing how his betrayals are still hurting his family and, most important, “how he hasn’t repaired their relationship,” she says. She points out that on "Good Morning America” Monday, “He dodged the question about Maria and the kids knowing about the book.”

It seems as if the family did not bless the book, says Ms. Tixe. This could backfire as he keeps stressing that the situation has been hard on them and they have been hurt. “Isn't this hurting your family for money and career gain?” she adds.

As a PR rep, she says Schwarzenegger should have repaired his family issues before launching this book in order for his story to be more believable. “The public is over the story of how he accomplished the American dream.”

But this drive has always been the dark side of the classic American narrative, says Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular culture at Syracuse University in New York. “This lack of introspection on the way up and a disregard for those who have been hurt,” he says, has always been present in the traditional American immigrant rags-to-riches tale. “It is the notion that you have to do whatever it takes to get what you want.”

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