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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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Why does anyone care? Mr. and Mrs. Woods have a problem in their marriage. Clearly, Mr.Woods has spent a good deal of his life attempting to keep the private part..private. This blew up in his face last Friday. If I were the Woods, I would say not one word more. If questioned upon returning to the golf course, I would say that my marriage is private, and would have no further comment. Mr. Woods owes nothing to anyone other than his wife and children. I wish for once someone would tell the press to back off. But it appears that Mr. Woods and his harem will play the public confession game.

R U kidding me?????What you do in you personal AFFECTs all aspect of your life including & espcially in your job!! engagin in any risk taking behavior will affect your career.

Who really cares about what's gone on in his superstar life. I imagine through the years it's a preasure cooker no matter how cool he seems to be! He's human like the rest of us.

The MEDIA is INTERESTED because the companies that PAY HIM nearly 100 MILLION DOLLARS PER YEAR ..........USE.......the media to MAKE MONEY.......which means that the PUBLIC is clearly interested becasue it's the PUBLIC who BUY those products.

Tiger Woods has been an ICON and STAR Golfer, known all over the world. Tiger Woods decided he did not want PRIVACY in his PERSONAL life when he DECIDED to take up with OTHER women, completelly disrespecting his wife, his two lovely children and THE PUBLIC who are his MEAL TICKET.

Whinning now about the MEDIA or the INTERESTED or nosey PUBLIC is INSULTING to both. Without the MEDIA there would be NO endorsements for Tiger, without the INTERESTED PUBLIC there would be NO FANS.

Tiger Woods if not for the so-called BAD MEDIA would be putting on a green for no one to see.

You cannot make your money off of your public image and expect the public not to care if you do something they consider wrong. In addition, his career as a golfer and spokesman were his choice. If you put yourself in the public eye that is your choice and you have to accept the burdens that come with it. We are all well aware of that it takes two, but we expect more of Tiger than women willing to throw there panties around and we should - he's paid largely because he's supposed to be better than that! Shame on him for making choices that will drag his wife and kids through this and even possibly bringing home diseases for them. As for whether people should just stick with his golf - that is ridiculous... I want to know what kind of person I'm telling my children to watch or speaking of with high regard. His name will not be on that list anymore. I will not buy a product with a Tiger label on it for my kids or give it a double take if he's selling it. Much the same way Michael Phelps isn't spoken of as often around here either.
I would prefer that Tiger had gone down as a successful man, father, and one of the best golfers rather than being the best golfer and a loser of a man. I hope he changes and makes the most of his family life from here on out. I don't even care if he ever sets foot on a golf course again if he can his family life around he'll build up more of his lost respect than if he wins another tournament.

"The man is a professional *golfer* for the love of Pete. His life is *only* interesting insofar as it impacts a golf ball".

Well not exactly. Tiger has developed a complete line of products from clothing to endorsing cars. He has made a fortune out of selling the public a personal icon that in his own words "puts family first." As it turns out that wasn't true and I think a lot of people would like to return those products that say 100% genuine on the label. I think a lot of people feel scammed.

The scandal does matter, on several levels. No one likes or trusts a hypocrite. If I were thinking about buying a Buick, the immorality of its main spokesman would affect my decision. Tiger's (false) public persona is what made him such an effective endorser.

The scandal is also a Greek tragedy about the pursuit of success, wealth, and happiness, Tiger's fall from grace, and the unhappiness and shame he's brought to his family. Like many Greek tragedies, Tiger's fate has its roots in his childhood, when he was coddled and groomed for one thing only.

The scandal also involves interesting social issues concerning the role of wealth and privilege in the justice system, the role of new media, and the sanctity of romantic marriage vs. marriage as a business contract. The story is so much more than just that of a cheating husband.

Everyone seems focused on whether Tiger was wrong, or his wife was wrong, or whether the media is paying too much attention, yada yada yada. What is really fascinating is that this story strikes a nerve on so many levels. First and foremost, if Tiger cheated on his wife, and if the reading/viewing public chooses to condemn him, what does that say about those doing the condemning? It's easy to take the moral high ground when you are looking at someone else's indiscretion. Ask yourself, if my life were subjected to such intense public scrutiny, would my actions withstand such scrutiny? To those of you who question Tiger's integrity, I ask you, do you live your life with integrity? Not just marital fidelity, but all aspects of integrity. Do you cheat on your taxes? Do you cheat your kids (i.e., focused on your interests and perspective instead of theirs)? Integrity can be obvious, but more often it is subtle. My point is that before you go around feeling so morally superior to Tiger Woods and condemning his actions, take a look at yourself first. I'm sure this controversy has sparked many a debate and conversation among couples around the world. And this debate is healthy and can result in a deeper understanding and connection with those around us.

Second, there is the issue of Tiger Woods being a public figure. There are those who believe that he deserves everything he has coming to him, not only because he may have cheated on his wife, but because he is a public figure and traded on his "clean" image to make billions. Ask yourself, what does this say about the values of our society in general, when companies are willing to invest billions of dollars in such an image of perfection? Mankind has exalted its heroes throughout history and yet at the same time we look for the cracks in the armor of perfection, and ultimately these heroes are publicly befallen by the scorn and judgment of the masses due to the most human of failings: hubris, lust and greed. Again, ask yourself, if I were possessed with such otherworldly gifts and talents that are so universally celebrated and rewarded, do I possess the character to withstand the basic human impulses of hubris, lust and greed afforded by the opportunities presented to me? I'm not suggesting that anyone feel sorry for Tiger Woods. No, I'm suggesting that perhaps it would be more fulfilling to each of us personally, beyond the schadenfreude we experience from the daily tabloid headlines, to stop for a minute and imagine what his life must be like, not just the good, but the not so good, and instead of condemning him for his acts of hubris, lust or greed, feel some empathy and think "there but for the grace of God go I."

Empathize not for Tiger's sake, but for the sake of your own humanity, and for the humanity of y0ur friends, family and loved ones. Set aside your own envy, disappointment, morality, judgment. And just imagine what it must be like to be so publicly humiliated, even if such humiliation is of your own making. And again, ask yourself, what kind of world do I want to live in? What kind of world do I want my kids to live in? What can I teach my kids as a result of this story? Do I teach them that all sports stars with big endorsements are bad people if they don't live up to some image of perfection? Do I teach them that all men who cheat 0n their wives are bad people? Do I teach them that it is okay to revel in the misery of others? Because it's up to you to shape that world for your kids, not Tiger and not the media. And realize that the world and people are not perfect, but life is worth living because we strive to improve ourselves and our species by learning from the mistakes of others and the past. So before you pat yourself on the back for being better than Tiger, take the time and ask yourself, am I really the husband/wife/parent/friend that I want to be? Focus on your game, not his. Because that's what Tiger Woods has done to reach the top. He focused on his game, not anyone else's. He may appear to be faltering in the game of marriage, but if he approaches fixing his marriage the way he approaches his golf game, he will recover from this mistake and improve his game immeasurably, and maybe teach all of us a thing or two.

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.

This is the most disgusting line I have heard it implies that men can do what they want to; as long as they are quite about it and the women they are having an affair with are quite too. This is the greatest form of abuse. NO INTEGRITY he has none.

Ye he may be a wonderful athlete that people admire and with that comes money and with that comes fame and power. People will not say no and want a piece of that and the person with the fame and power will let it go to their head and them INTEGRITY is lost once lost never to be 100% regained.

If no laws broken no harm done you are full of crap the "Old Boys Club" is alive and well and making it hard for marriage to stay together and children to grow up with fathers that should be teaching them how to be respectful and kind to others and then we would not need so many laws to govern how to treat other people.

This is how it starts right here and TIGER WOODS is no different than any other cheating man which constitutes Domestic Mental Abuse.

Your review no harm done ask his wife... You should be ashamed of yourself.

I'm disappointed in Tiger's behavior, just as I would be disappointed for any man who cheats on his wife, but he deserves his privacy just as much as anyone. I heard a statistic the other day (which I cannot confirm or deny) saying that 60% of men have extra-marital affairs. If that's even close to being correct, it speaks volumes about the overall moral level of our society, and we should be very ashamed. That doesn't justify Tiger's behavior (or any of the other many million men who did the same thing), but it does suggest that our society needs some attitude adjustments. For example, many people condemn committed same-sex relationships (key word is "committed") while we tend to look the other way in the face of heterosexual misbehavior. We should be encouraging people to have committed relationships (one person committed to one other person, of either sex). In the meantime, get your noses out of Tiger's personal lives; you don't have the right to "know" what happened.

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