Governor’s position as a top editor at a pair of bodybuilding magazines may enhance his political celebrity
The San Francisco Chronicle
Even as he flexes political muscle in Sacramento, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger quietly presses his influence in another universe — as executive editor of two leading bodybuilding magazines.
Schwarzenegger’s oiled and eye-popping physique, from a classic 1970s pose, graces newsstands on this month’s cover of Muscle & Fitness magazine, which — along with its sister publication, Flex — proudly lists “Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger” as its executive editor.
Both publications feature regular bylines, editorials and columns by California’s Republican governor as well as a generous amount of Arnold-friendly copy. The current Muscle & Fitness is labeled the “Arnold Training Special” and includes a huge bonus poster foldout of “The Austrian Oak” — “the greatest bodybuilder of all time” — plus a 12-page photo spread about Schwarzenegger’s award-winning fitness routines. Both current editions have stories previewing an A&E biopic, “Run Arnold Run” — a glowing rehash of his short political career — along with full-page ads starring Schwarzenegger promoting his signature March 4-6 “Arnold Classic” bodybuilding competition in Columbus, Ohio.
Schwarzenegger, at a Chronicle editorial board meeting Friday, spoke at length about his outside role in bodybuilding publishing, saying the posts allow him to present a valuable message about the values of physical fitness and the dangers of abusing steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.
The governor brushed aside critics’ suggestions that he distance himself from the posts for ethical reasons and because the sport has endemic drug abuse problems.
“Well, no, I’m going to continue promoting health and fitness,” he said Friday. “I’ve made it very clear that I want to weed out all the problems that they write about that is unhealthy for anybody.”
The governor’s advisers say the unusual publishing role of the seven-time Mr. Olympia enhances his first and most important job — heading up the nation’s most populous state.
“It’s who he is. It goes to his core,” said Margita Thompson, Schwarzenegger’s press secretary. “He sold bodybuilding and made it more mainstream. He sold working out and physical fitness. Now he’s shifted into selling California.”
Schwarzenegger’s executive title in Muscle & Fitness and Flex was announced last March by Weider Publications LLC, run by his longtime mentor and friend, Joe Weider. The firm, which developed half a dozen bodybuilding magazines, was bought in November 2002 by Boca Raton-based American Media Inc., whose publications include a roster of leading supermarket tabloids such as the National Enquirer, the Star and the Globe.
Governor’s nonprofit benefits
Asked about the financial arrangements of the deal, AMI spokesman Stuart Zakim said “American Media has made a five-year commitment to make a contribution” — totaling $1.25 million — to the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization established last year. Neither Zakim nor the governor’s office could confirm Friday, however, that a donation had been made.
Zakim said Friday that the money was “not a salary” and that the governor receives no other paychecks for the work.
With his public-relations arsenal, the former bodybuilder and movie star has direct access to media vehicles that offer promotion and relentlessly positive coverage of his interests — at a time when he is on the stump pitching his budget and political proposals to voters.
“He’s a whole franchise, and he’s always been a franchise,” said former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, an admiring Democrat. “He’s very good at it, the public loves it, and they don’t view his attention to his franchise responsibilities as being in conflict with his job as governor. So he’s really, really lucky. The rest of us would be barbecued.”
But consumer advocates say that while the governor is being served by the arrangement, the benefits to the public are questionable.
“These magazines are where Arnold the Brand meets Arnold the Politician,” said Doug Heller of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a nonprofit watchdog organization that manages a Web site called Arnoldwatch.com. “You’ve got this venue for Schwarzenegger to essentially improve his own stature in the public — and he’s using it freely.”
Sheldon Rampton, research director for the Center for Media and Democracy in Washington, D.C., which studies media and ethics issues, said Schwarzenegger might increasingly be “crossing a lot of boundaries between self-promotion and the financial interests of his longtime sponsors.”
“The danger when you blur these boundaries is that, especially when you become a policy-maker, it creates confusion,” Rampton said.
Critics suggest there’s a darker side to the savvy marketing efforts of Schwarzenegger to maintain his well-deserved legacy among a niche market of hard-core bodybuilders. The consumer market for such magazines, they say, aims at a sport in which abuse of illegal performance-enhancing drugs is endemic.
Schwarzenegger “doesn’t endorse anabolic steroids, but he stays, in my judgment, uncomfortably close to an activity that is inundated with drugs,” said Dr. Charles Yesalis, professor of health policy and sports science at Pennsylvania State University.
“Bodybuilding… has been associated with drugs more than any other sport,” said Yesalis, the author of “The Steroids Game” and one of the nation’s leading experts on steroid use and abuse.
He notes that Muscle & Fitness and Flex are packed with advertising pushing performance-enhancing substances promising “ripped” muscles, fat-reduction and enhanced sexual stamina — including legal anabolic steroids and “pseudo-supplements” that brag of skirting the line of illegal use.
Many of the drugs sold in the magazines represent a “witch’s brew” whose efficacy and safety are unknown, Yesalis said.
Even more disturbing, Yesalis said, is that much of the marketing in bodybuilding publications such as Flex and Muscle & Fitness is directed at kids, including a record number of teenage girls.
“It’s a growing problem … (and) you got a guy who’s very charismatic, a nationally recognized leader” with a direct role, Yesalis said. “I wish he would use his celebrity and his fame and political clout in a way that would help the problem — rather than one that might exacerbate it.”
Says he’s now anti-drug
Schwarzenegger defended his role on that front, telling The Chronicle’s editorial board that he has pushed to get an anti-drug message into both publications.
“We have our meetings regularly to talk about which direction we want to go with the sport, which direction we want to go with the fitness promotion, what should be in the magazine, those kinds of issues,” he said.
“The fact is that we are trying to tone down, and I’ve told everybody to not have any articles which promote (steroid use). Twenty or 30 years ago, we did. I was very much against that,” Schwarzenegger said.
But Schwarzenegger has acknowledged using steroids during his bodybuilding career that brought him to international attention and led to his Hollywood career as an action-movie hero.
“It was a risky thing to do, but I have no regrets. It was what I had to do to compete,” Schwarzenegger told the Los Angeles Times in 1996. “The danger with steroids is over-usage. I only did it before a difficult competition — for two months, but not for a period of time that could harm me. And then afterward, it was over. I would stop. I have no health problems, no kidney damage or anything like that from using them.”
But on the issue of questionable advertising, he said, “I’m not a hands-on guy who sits in Woodland Hills, in the office, that goes through all the ads every month. That’s not what I do… we very rarely talk about the advertising.’ “
Schwarzenegger also insisted that the magazine’s editors “are not controlling the ads… it’s not their products, so that will continue going on,” he said. “We have no control over that.”
Political and magazine industry insiders say the California governor’s role in fitness publishing dramatizes the continued consumer appeal of Schwarzenegger, who is credited with building today’s modern bodybuilding industry by the force of his personality as well as his physique.
“It adds not only credibility to this field of magazines but also pushes those two magazines one notch above the others by having the governor’s name attached to them,” said Husni Samir, a professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi and an expert on the magazine industry.
Samir said AMI’s move to tap Schwarzenegger for the post was “a great gimmick with a lot of response from both readers and advertisers” and was viewed within the industry as “a big coup for David Pecker (the CEO of American Media).”
The governor has been “a major selling factor for these titles and he will continue to be… whether critics like or not,” Samir said. “As they say in the muscle business — use it or lose it.”
The relationship has been a profitable one. For the first 11 months of 2004, the most recent figures available, Muscle & Fitness revenues were reported at $57.8 million, up 16.8 percent over January-November 2003, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. In the same period, the publication ran 1,437 ad pages — up 9.8 percent over the prior year, according to the information bureau’s Web site, which did not include data on Flex.
Still, the relationship has raised questions of conflict on the governor’s actions in office, such as his decision last year to veto legislation by Democratic state Sen. Jackie Speier that would have mandated tougher testing and preventative programs to curb steroids and performance-enhancing drugs among high school athletes.
Asked about his position on more stringent drug testing in athletics and his own Arnold Classic bodybuilding forum, he said, “I’ve been for testing ever since the idea came out.”
“But the biggest challenge in bodybuilding is that every time we come up with a test, they find a way to make the drugs in a way you cannot detect with a test,” he said. “So we are quickly scrambling to detect this new drug that they have come out with.”
The governor is doing “a great dodge and weave” on the issue, said Speier, D-Hillsborough, who has reintroduced a new bill that also requires state health officials to create a list of sports supplements banned from use by minors.
“He should be cleaning it up,” she said, but “those magazines are funded almost exclusively by these performance-enhancing dietary supplements.”
Heller of Arnoldwatch.com agrees: “It’s not a question if he has used them or uses them. When these magazines write glowing articles about him, and these magazines depend on (advertising) dangerous substances that lawmakers have tried to restrict, it raises the question of whether Schwarzenegger has personal interest in vetoing their use.”
Some political observers, like Barbara O’Connor, professor of political communication at California State University, Sacramento, notes that so far, at least, voters have had no problem with Schwarzenegger’s unusual roots or his continued ties to them.
“This is a guy who understands where he came from — and he’s not ashamed where he’s been,” she said. “People find that refreshing.”
ENHANCING REVENUE PERFORMANCE
“Muscle & Fitness” and “Flex” — two major bodybuilding magazines for which Gov. Arnold Scwharzenegger serves as executive editor — are filled with ads for performance-enhancing products. While the products are legal, the ads often brag of skirting the lines of illegal steroid use.
Among the advertisers:
Peak Physique is a Texas-based firm that touts itself as “the source” on mail order drugs, including “human growth hormone, testosterone cypionate, injectable and ingestible stanozolol, oxandrolone and oxymetholone,” all man-made steroids.
On Cycle/Off Cycle, marketed by Fizogen as “extreme anabolic/androgenic agents,” which promise “intense muscle growth.” The ad headline: “Not all extremely powerful muscle-building cycles are smuggled across the border.”
Liqui-Nitro, billed as “the most powerful gray market anabolic currently available,” promises “dramatic increases in muscle volume and hardness.”
Liqui-Test is a testosterone-boosting drug whose ad claims “anything stronger would be illegal.”
CEX, “molecularly altered creatines,” promises “explosive muscle strength and size.” The ad by distributor VPX assures “pro-hormones and pro-steroids will be banned — but fear not.”
2 Pumped! is a combination of arginine malate and kre-alkalyn, a nitric oxide booster that promises to “build slabs of rock hard muscle, attain mind-blowing pumps and ripped lean mass.”
Equabuterol boasts that the product was “originally designed for race horses, now available for humans,” and will “greatly boost testosterone levels.”
Creatine Ethyl Ester Stack promises “explosive nitric oxide dispersion” and a “full body muscle pump,” direct from “the makers of the world’s most powerful … oral anabolics.”
Schwarzenegger talks about steroids
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, speaking to The Chronicle’s editorial board on Friday, responded to questions about performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports and bodybuilding.
On testing athletes and bodybuilders for steroids:
“I’ve been for testing ever since the idea came about. We’ve had testing at the Arnold Classic (bodybuilding competition) … following exactly the same guidelines as the Olympic committee does. … I’m very adamant about it. Because my feeling is, if you take all the drugs away, we will still have the same winners. It won’t change.”
Bodybuilding without drugs is “healthier … and No. 2, it would be a much better message to the youngster — that those guys are like this because they train five hours a day, refrain from alcohol, slept eight hours a day. They train hard, they stay focused … only those who work out hard, who struggled and work, they can be winners. …There’s an all-across-the-board a great
On whether the recent proposal of Major League Baseball on drug testing goes far enough:
“I really haven’t looked into the proposal … I don’t know if they have come far enough. Apparently, for some people, it’s still not far enough.”
On his veto last year of Democratic state Sen. Jackie Speier’s bill on testing teenage athletes:
The governor said he vetoed the legislation because it had “something tagged on … that has nothing to do with (the bill). So we put out a message and say this is a good idea, come back with it.
“First of all, it’s against the law, in school, to have drugs in schools in the first place. So what are we taking about — a bill that doesn’t allow drugs in high schools? … I signed a bill this last fall which bans supplements… and I’m for anything that would protect our kids.”
Here are some of the governor’s past statements on his use of steroids as a bodybuilder more than 20 years ago.
“I take steroids because they help me an extra 5 percent. Women take the (contraception) pill. They are somewhat similar. I do it under a doctor’s supervision.”
— Interview with Barbara Walters, 1974
“Yes I have used them, but no, they didn’t make me what I am. Anabolic steroids were helpful to me in maintaining muscle size while on a strict diet in preparation for a contest.”
— Mail order pamphlet, “Arnold: Developing a Mr. Universe Physique,” 1977
“I don’t worry about it, because I never took an overdosage.”
— Playboy, 1987
“It was new then. There were no laws against it. I experimented with it. I’m instinctive. I felt right away it was not a real thing. I felt something in my system didn’t belong there. I quit.”
— USA Today, 1990
“In those days you didn’t have to deal with the black market. You could go to your physician and just say, ‘Listen, I want to gain some weight, and I want to take something.’ Then the physician would say, ‘Do it six weeks before competition, then it will be safe.’ And that’s what you would do.”
— U.S. News & World Report, 1992
“There is no one who has ever gone the long haul relying on drugs. That extra 20 pounds that you may lift from using those steroids is not going to be worth it. … I think it is very important that someone like myself who has been there gets that message out.”
— Saturday Evening Post, 1993
“As someone who is in a position to influence young people, I want to make my position very clear. I am absolutely against the use of these dangerous and illegal substances.”
— “New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding,” by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Dobbins, 1998
E-mail Carla Marinucci at [email protected]