It was perhaps inevitable that someone, somewhere, would track down the name--or a name, anyway--in the episode involving former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the child he fathered outside his marriage a decade ago. And that’s all the more reason to commend the Los Angeles Times for doing the right thing, and sticking to its initial decision.
The LA Times, which broke the story this week, handled it in an exceedingly responsible and dignified manner, resisting any temptation to play up the salacious segments of the story. All the elements were there--the liaison itself, the fact that a child resulted from the union, the fact that the woman in question had worked for the family, and the understandable pain of the former governor’s estranged wife, Maria Shriver, who not incidentally had given up a promising broadcast career to accommodate her husband’s political ambitions. What was missing was the name of the woman Schwarzenegger impregnated. [Check out a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]
Most news organizations have a policy of not naming sexual assault victims to protect the privacy of the individual. This was not the case, here--the woman in question was not a victim. To our knowledge, the relationship was consensual. So that is not ample reason to keep her name out of the paper.
However, another innocent person’s life must be considered, and that is the life of the child. In paparazzi-packed Southern California, the child would almost certainly endure unwanted attention, even harassment, from photographers and agents of both legitimate and sketchy news personnel. Naming the mother allows people to identify the child, so the LA Times’ decision to shield the woman’s name serves to protect a minor. [Read 10 things you didn't know about Schwarzenegger.]
Other outlets, however, have identified the woman, basing the information on sources who know the family. And it’s likely that other news outlets will follow, with the flawed but increasingly common Internet-era logic that "it’s out there." The LA Times’ display of professionalism, restraint and responsibility lasted, then, just a couple of days. It may have been a short-lived example, but it’s an honorable one.