Former Schwarzenegger scribe shares war stories

Gary Delsohn hoped he would get access and truth. He got a little more of one than the other.

When he left the Sacramento Bee to write speeches for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gary Delsohn's desires didn't change. "I was worried about two things that any journalist strives for: access and truth."

So he explains in a tell-all in the SactownMag that's good as these things go.

Access came pretty easy, as Delsohn took the governor's calls all around the clock and calendar, including Easter and Thanksgiving mornings. Schwarzennegger appreciated the work. “I think when we can work together … on a draft and make changes we need,” the Governor told Delsohn after a successful speech, “the speeches are really great.”

As for the truth? “We don’t lie,” a Schwarzenegger political operative once joked. “We tell the truth very slowly."

Like all speechwriters, Delsohn learned to write for the ear, which was particularly difficult with Schwarzenegger:

For instance, I knew he liked straightforward language. And while it’s a common speechwriting tactic to put phonetic pronunciations in for tricky words or names, it was even more critical for him because of his accent. And because it was a German accent, I also knew to stay away from words beginning with V or W. Unfortunately, I learned just how important that was the hard way.

I had written a speech for a Holocaust remembrance event in Los Angeles, which included a quote from Elie Wiesel, the dignified Holocaust survivor and author. I was assured by someone close to the governor that he knew Wiesel and the correct pronunciation of his name (vee-ZEL), so I left out the phonetic spelling. My heart sank when I heard Schwarzenegger say “Elie Weasel” to the mostly Jewish audience. It was a mistake I didn’t make again.

As Schwarzenegger's rhetoric was drowned by the financial crisis, Delsohn quit to get his life back. "The three years I spent with access to the state’s top elected official proved to be one of the most interesting experiences of my professional life," he concluded. "Though not without a price."

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