Jesse “The Body” Ventura has taken on sharpshooters in the jungle and bloodthirsty fighters in the ring. The one thing the governor of Minnesota, who is on a 10-day visit to Japan, can’t get used to is the media frenzy that swarms around him.
Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on Thursday, the pro wrestler-turned-governor said that the media scrutiny he has been under since he took office in January has been “the most critical and brutal part” of life in the governor’s mansion. “Anything I say has earth-shattering consequence,” he said.
During the speech, Ventura, who served in Vietnam as a U.S. Navy SEAL, boasted of his knowledge of Japan, acquired during his last visit as a pro wrestler in the 1980s. He also emphasized the importance of the partnership between his state and Japan.
According to Ventura, Japan bought nearly $750 million worth of Minnesota products last year, including such food brands as Spam and Green Giant.
The governor also touted his state as a great tourist destination for winter sports. “I’m Jesse ‘The Tourism Governor’ Ventura because I’m so proud of my state,” he said.
His faceoff with the media became more colorful after the scripted speech, when he fielded often-repeated questions from the media in his own way: by muscling through them.
When a foreign reporter expressed skepticism about how fruitful this trip would be for Minnesota and asked whether the governor had reaped “any harvest,” Ventura said “(The) trip’s not over.”
“I could be meeting businesses right now, instead I’m entertaining you! Don’t ever mess with a wrestler,” said the 250-pound former ring villain, to laughter from the audience.
Many questions focused on suggestions that Ventura may run for president, which he emphatically dismissed. In a recent interview with Harvard Current magazine, Ventura said he would only consider running for the office if it was to save the Reform Party and if Minnesotans mobilized behind him. At this time, he said, “I don’t have a desire for the job.”
As a former wrester and the highest office holder of Ross Perot’s Reform Party, he has been an irresistible target of the media. He’s been in the headlines almost constantly back home.
Recently, Ventura said his Playboy magazine interview was the most embarrassing moment during his administration. In the interview, he called organized religion “a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people.” He has since apologized and claimed his statements were taken out of context.
Even 11,000 km away from home, he cannot escape media attention. His tour has received high-profile coverage from the Japanese media — much more than a visiting U.S. governor can normally expect.
Even more unusual is the presence of a 20-person Minnesotan press corps that has tagged along on his tour. “The governor and the local media are more cordial since we arrived here,” said Elizabeth Costello of a Minnesota television station, referring to friction between Ventura and the media from his home state.
The governor has complained about nosy reporters who dig into issues he says are often unrelated to his business in office. Meanwhile, Costello said that in Minnesota, “He has shut us out, declining press conferences.” Access has been better here in Japan, she said, adding that Minnesotans’ interest in the governor’s tour is very high.
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