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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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The Tiger Woods scandal: How much do the media really need to know?

Tiger Woods

Poor Tiger Woods. After carefully controlling his image for nearly 15 years as a international celebrity (he was actually on "The Mike Douglas Show" when he was 2, already showing off his golf swing), Woods probably figured that the media might cut him some slack when it came to explaining -- or actually not explaining -- what happened in the wee hours of Nov. 27 when he crashed his car outside his Florida home.

But the crash, and Woods' inability to provide a logical account of his behavior, unleashed the media dogs from hell. Now, Woods finds himself deep in the rough, with several women having suddenly popped up, eager for their 15 minutes of fame, happy to divulge details of their alleged sexual affairs with the golf legend. (One woman claims to have had a 31-month-long affair with Woods.)

But the most depressing aspect of the whole imbroglio is that Woods still harbors the quaint notion that, having broken no laws, done no physical harm and never uttered a controversial word in his life, he should be allowed some privacy while he mends his fences. As he put it in a statement Wednesday:

I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. ... Although I am a well-known person and have made my career as a professional athlete, I have been dismayed to realize the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny really means. For the last week my family and I have been hounded to expose intimate details of our personal lives. ... Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions.

Have sadder words ever been said? Because Woods couldn't be more right. He's not a public official nor a high-minded preacher or cable TV public scold. What he does with his private life should be his own (pardon the pun) affair. Sure, he has zillion-dollar endorsement deals from the likes of Nike, but he earned those deals because he's the greatest golfer of his generation, not because he's a paragon of personal virtue. But in today's wildly intrusive media universe, being a winner isn't enough to protect your privacy. 

We are a nation of busybodies, and when a hero or a champion or someone who is perceived as a role model turns out to have feet of clay, we feel a need to know every prurient detail about his or her transgressions, no matter how little they have to do with the hero's public performance. For years, baseball writers have been on a witch hunt against steroid users, heaping scorn and hurling charges against a variety of stars, often on the flimsiest of evidence. But at least you can argue that steroids, as performance-enhancing drugs, are a form of cheating, enabling athletes to achieve goals and win awards they didn't deserve.

But the only cheating Tiger has done is most likely on his wife. He hasn't forsaken his public or disgraced the game of golf. The justification for digging up the dirt on Tiger, according to a sportswriter who was interviewed on NPR on Wednesday, boils down to this: In the media, we are not very good at letting go of a story until there are some clear answers.

Of course, that's not exactly true. The media have let go of stories all the time, from how cooked-up evidence of weapons of mass destruction led to the invasion of Iraq to how, in the midst of a horrible financial meltdown, Wall Street fat cats got bailed out by the government while regular folks got the shaft.

But those are tough stories. The salacious stories that revolve around shameless behavior, whether it's Tiger's transgressions or the "balloon boy" or the brazen White House state dinner gate-crashers, they get the media full-court press, complete with front-page headlines and congressional hearings. 

I suspect that Tiger is undergoing the media's version of the full monty in large part because he's a tabloid virgin. This is his first brush with scandal, the first tarnishing of his image. With rare exception, the more squeaky clean the celebrity, the more vigilant the scrutiny. If Charles Barkley's wife chased him down the driveway with a golf club tomorrow night, no one would bat an eye, since he already has a long string of bad-boy behavior that has lowered our surprise factor. Ditto for Charlie Sheen or Kiefer Sutherland or Michael Vick. But if Derek Jeter or Peyton Manning were nabbed in a drug bust or arrested in a nightclub fight, the media hell hounds would be in full pursuit.

So Tiger has to play the game, the modern-day media kabuki dance of acknowledging his sins, asking for forgiveness and allowing himself to be humbled and cleansed, not by seeking out a spiritual guide, but by going on TV, sitting down with Oprah or Diane Sawyer or Bob Costas and facing the music. We demand public contrition from our heroes. The good news is that Tiger will survive, since as the old Arab parable goes: The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on. There will be a new scandal, a new celebrity in trouble and the media circus will pitch its tents at his door.

No one knows this better than Allan Mayer, a veteran crisis management consultant who's now a principal partner at 42 West. He's the guy who first laid out Rule No. 1 of celebrity scandal problem solving, which holds that if you don't tell your story, chances are that someone will tell it for you -- and you probably won't like how it turns out. Mayer was optimistic about Woods' future, noting that the public views athletes in a different light than movie stars.

"For a movie star to be successful, the public has to love you," he said. "But for an athlete to be successful, they simply have to win. All Tiger has to do is win a few big golf tournaments. If he doesn't play well, the story will probably stay alive, because everyone will be wondering: Why isn't he winning? Are his private issues affecting his performance? But if he starts winning, he'll be fine."

In other words, in America, whether you're playing Pee Wee football in Midland, Texas, or holing a long putt on the 18th hole of the Masters at Augusta, winning cures just about everything.

Photo credit: David Cannon / Getty Images

Comments () | Archives (76)

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The American Puritan, since his inception, has been the most shameful hypocrite of all - and today, by buying into the media's sick moralizing of this situation, we step into his shoes.

Of course, what Tiger did was wrong. He has acknowledged that. But who here has clean hands to slap him with? You who have never lied, cheated, stolen, hidden, omitted anything - who have never made a mistake, make yourselves heard!

Does Tiger owe us penance because he's rich - and yet not perfect? Does being rich make him worse than, say, someone who is poor and not perfect? At least the man has something to offer us - in the form of great talent. The rest of you - all you media hacks and bloated wastes, all you fire throwing mediocrities - have nothing to offer the world but your scorn - and your envy.

Tiger traded on his pristine image. It will come at 1) his wife did beat him up in the house that's why cops weren't let in otherwise she would have been arrested under Fl's abuse law, did you see the police diagram of how he drove out the street? That was enough to know soemthing was up but the cops decided to look the other way 2) the guy has been with hundreds of women and that is his lifestyle. He dates many many women. I don't see why a man who lives that way deserves any breaks.

WRONG!!!!!!!! let some nice guy who my kids can look up to as a roll model make ZILLIONS of $$$$$$$$ in endorsements have them, he has everything, GOD gave him this GIFT to golf like he does is a gift from GOD. He is such a puke for smucking it up, Sorry men, but you can't just be good @ a sport like lets say Tyson & behave like a PIG & we all say oh but he can't help himself! GAG me you make me ill, I will purchase NO PRODUCT this jerk is behind!

are you kidding? tiger (or as i refer to him now as "cheetah"), the serial adulterer, made his billion by perfecting his "holier than thou" marketed image of the perfect man, husband and father -- a person we should all admire and desire to be like by buying the myriad products he endorsed. but this sqeaky clean endorsement machine turns out to be a fiction, and we are supposed to not be concerned. maybe in tiger's fantasy of his own life he can escape to his environmentally dubious, slave-labor produced desert golf meccah in dubai for some privacy. but that ain't the real world (and, as it turns out, dubai was about as real as cheetah's image). too bad elin did not call joey greco. and what do i tell my ten year old kid at this point? you must have forgotten the commercial ripped of from malcolm x, but i am decidedly not tiger woods.

forgot to mention an important point that now seems to be lost in the disclosure of his serial adultery -- the above the law aspect of what clearly was a domestic violence situation and the free pass given to woods and his wife. in what light are we supposed to view his initial denial and denunciation of "the many false, unfounded and malicious rumors that are currently circulating" and his insistence that he "had a single-car accident earlier this week, and sustained some injuries". i am sure that if i ran over a fire hydrant and hit my neighbor's tree at 2:30am and the police and an ambulance were summoned by a 911 call to transport me, semi-conscious and bleeding, to the hospital, that the chp would simply take "no" for answer to their questions about those events. yeah, right, i am quite sure my "privacy" woudl be preserved under these circumstances.

, most of which turned out to be true?

Time for Tiger to put his big girl pants on and make this right. I agree whole heartedly with most everybody - this is an unfortunate situation on many levels. I do feel sorry for Tiger and I especially feel sorry for his wife because she will feel the brunt of his transgressions. I don't doubt that Tiger is sorry but this type of behavior is no longer taboo in this country. We feed on this kind of dirt which is the biggest transgression of them all.

The same people who are upset over Tiger Woods are the same ones who have their children believing in Santa up until they are 18 years old. Grow up people.

The guy has made a gazillion dollars and can have anything he wants. And what does he want? Cocktail waitresses. How stupid can you get? It all makes what he's done on the golf course that much more incredible, given how DUMB he is off the course. Surely he knew he'd eventually get caught. Don't bother with the house jewelry, Tiger. It won't make up for the fact that you don't love your wife enough not to cheat.

Tiger should have kept his tiger in the cage!!!!!!

Here is a poem for you mr. flinger:

Once upon a time in the American woods,
There was a man who knew how to swing.
He was neither a tiger nor a wolf
But a stooge.

He swang well almost like a king.
So he thought: I am a king, so I can have free flings.
He chose a broad and had an affair.
His wife found out, and in a rage chased him with
his club to smash his ding-a-ling.

You are no longer a role model, flinger. You are a hole model just like many other celebrities.

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