Accusing the Los Angeles Times of tabloid tactics by publishing unsubstantiated allegations about Arnold Schwarzenegger on the eve of the California recall election, a columnist said the paper has been sitting on information Gov. Gray Davis is an “office batterer.”

Los Angeles-based political commentator Jill Stewart, a Democrat, said Davis “has attacked female members of his staff, thrown objects at subservients and launched into red-faced fits, screaming the f-word until staffers cower.”

Weeks ago, the syndicated columnist wrote, Times editors dispatched two teams of reporters to dig up dirt on Schwarzenegger but did nothing to investigate Davis’ “violence” against women who work for him.

“The paper’s protection of Davis is proof, on its face, of the gross bias within the paper,” Stewart said. “If Schwarzenegger is elected governor, it should be no surprise if Times reporters judge him far more harshly than they ever judged Davis.”

California voters will decide tomorrow whether to recall Davis and replace him with Schwarzenegger or another candidate.

Angry readers

The Times said in its Sunday edition about 1,000 readers had canceled subscriptions and some 400 phone callers had criticized its stories about anonymous women who accuse Schwarzenegger of groping and verbal harrassment during encounters dating to the early 1970s and as recently as 2000.

Many of the callers were angry and some were profane, said the paper, which published an initial front-page article Thursday with the stories of six women.

Defending the timing of the stories, Times Editor John Carroll pointed to the compressed schedule of the recall campaign, noting the paper had been pursuing the allegations for seven weeks.

Carroll, who insisted he received no tips from Schwarzenegger opponents, also pointed out the newspaper’s critical coverage of both Davis and independent candidate Arianna Huffington.

However, in an interview today with talk-radio host Sean Hannity, Stewart claimed L.A. Times reporters have told her the paper held the story, despite warnings from lawyers it would hurt the L.A. Times more than it hurts Schwarzenegger.

At least one of Schwarzenegger’s accusers was coached to come forward by a Democratic operative, she said.

Davis has called for a probe of the allegations against the Austrian-born actor.

Later in his radio program today, Hannity asked Schwarzenegger what he thought of Stewart’s claims about the Times.

“It was very clear from the beginning that they favored one candidate over the other,” Schwarzenegger replied, calling the stories last-hour “trickery.”

“I think the voters are smart enough to see this is politics, dirty campaigning,” he said.

Schwarzenegger has offered a general apology for having “behaved badly” toward women in the past and insists some of the allegations are completely fabricated. He says he will not discuss details until after the campaign.

‘Dirty Tricks Thursday’

Stewart said she was shocked about the “lurid” stories the Times published about Schwarzenegger, but not over the allegations, which she had read before, in a magazine.

“I was most shocked at the Los Angeles Times,” she wrote.

The commentator explained the Thursday before a big election is dubbed by politicos as “Dirty Tricks Thursday, which allows an opponent to unload dirt on a candidate with the maximum publicity and the minimum amount of time to credibly investigate or respond to the charges.

“It creates a Black Friday,” Stewart wrote, “where the candidate spends a precious business day right before the election desperately investigating the accusations, before facing a weekend in which reporters only care about further accusations that invariably spill out of the woodwork.”

She said “Dirty Tricks Thursday” is not used by the media to sink a campaign, but asserted the Times “managed to give every appearance of trying to do so.”

“It’s nothing short of journalistic malpractice when a paper mounts a last-minute attack that can make or break one of the most important elections in California history,” she said. “The Times looked even more biased by giving two different reasons for publishing its gruesome article at the last minute.”

Stewart disclosed she is a “friendly acquaintance” of one of Schwarzenegger’s accusers and has no idea whether her allegations are true.

But “neither does the Times,” she argued.

“If the Times were a tabloid, this would hardly matter,” she said. “But the newspaper is influential at times, and claims it has high standards. In this case, the paper gave in to its bias against Schwarzenegger.”

Allegations against Davis

As proof of the Times’ bias, she said, the paper has been sitting on accusations brought out in her Nov. 27, 1997, story in the now-defunct New Times and several other articles later with similar information.

Stewart’s article, headlined “Closet Wacko Vs. Mega Fibber,” detailed two incidents when Davis allegedly flew into a violent rage against female staffers.

In an incident in the mid-1990s, Davis began screaming the f-word at a policy analyst who informed him a key fundraising source had dried up, Stewart wrote.

The analyst said when she demanded Davis stop speaking that way, the governor grabbed her by her shoulders and “shook me until my teeth rattled. I was so stunned I said, ‘Good God Gray! Stop and look at what you are doing. Think what you are doing to me!'”

In another incident, Stewart said, Davis “so violently shoved his loyal, 62-year-old secretary out of a doorway that she suffered a breakdown and refused to ever work in the same room with him.”

An arrangement later was worked out by state officials for her to work at home, then in a separate area where Davis promised he would not go. Finally, Stewart said, the secretary transferred to another job, “desperate to avoid him.”

Davis left his former assistant a phone message, Stewart said, but it was not an apology. The governor asked her to come back to work, commenting, “You know how I am.”

Stewart said during her investigation of the Davis allegations she found out the Times also was pursuing the story, but the paper never published it.

“When I spoke to a reporter involved, he said editors at the Times were against attacking a major political figure using anonymous sources,” she said.

“Just what they did last week to Schwarzenegger.”

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