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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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It is not Woods' althetic prowess alone that causes companies to pay him millions to be their pitchman. It is his well-crafted image of being a stand-up good guy that makes him appealing. Parnevik is right-no matter what he does in the future on the golf course does not equate with being a good man. He has squandered that impression by his stupid, disrespectful callous behavior.

Kobe Bryant lost many endorsements during his debacle. Altho there were charges so that puts it on a somewhat different level, the end result is the same. A finely crafted image of outstanding athlete also being a fine man is shattered. Woods SHOULD lose endorsements. If not it says corporate America doesn't care about charcter, honor, or fidelity. I won't buy products of companies that discount those values. It tells me they probably are just as cavalier about the quality of their products.

If Kobe Bryant from the Lakers can be forgiven after a sexual assault trial regardless of the outcome, we can definitely give Tiger a break at some point.

Tiger will be okay. It is just shameful that people are greedy and trying to get money the easy way. Tiger, you have earned all your wealth on your own. If you wife is asking for money to leave you, then she is in the same class as those women who are stating they had sexual relations with you. They want their 15 minutes of fame and shameful people they are. If you did have sexual relations with these women, I am sure they received a happy ending just like you did. People are greedy and they will take advantage of the situation. Reporters, go find real stories you lazy bumbs. Go out there and find out why we still do not have our troops back? Go find out why North Korea and other communist countries kill so many people whom have done nothing wrong.

Unlike the author of this fairy tale, I thought I was the only one who believed that Eldrick (Tiger) Woods was a jerk. However, I am glad to see I am not alone in that realization. Woods makes less than 10% of his income from golf, and if he had been suspended from the tour for his misdeeds, that would have been unfair. However Woods makes the majority of his money from endorsements based on an image he himself has cultivated. It is an image that says, I am better than you, I am nicer than you, and I am a great role model for your children. So far the response from those companies that back him has been silence. It would be nice if some would have said sayonara sucker, we can do better.

Woods has lived a charmed life as a golfer, with many in the sporting press proclaiming his greatness before he had even won a tournament, or shot a round as a professional. Indeed they have overlooked every arrogant and classless thing Tiger has ever said or done.

About ten years ago he gave an interview to GQ magazine that was the usual puff piece, except that the article's writer decided to include a bunch of crude and racist jokes that Woods had shared with him on the limousine ride to the interview site. Tricky Dricky had thought he had been off the record, and thus felt free to show off his nasty side. When the interview appeared, any scandal was soon forgotten, as the media, and especially sportswriters, were quick to rally to Tiger's side and proclaim: He's only a boy, It's Tiger who is the aggrieved party here.

But what was even worse, was that at about that time, Woods had gone to the press and accused another golfer, a very skilled and well respected older golfer, of directing, in Woods' direction, a racist comment, one that was no such thing. Instead of finding out what had actually been said, or confronting the man in question for an explanation, or even going to talk with other black golfers, men who he claimed to admire and who could have definitively testified to (and later did) the character of the white golfer in question, Woods just let the accusation stand.

Due to this bogus charge the other golfer (whose name I will not mention, as he been damaged enough by this incident) lost a big endorsement deal, the only big one he had. In our culture, when a charge like this is made, no matter how unfair, it is seldom forgotten. The TV show Law & Order even used that charge and the golfer's name in one of their episodes, as an example of the alleged foul thoughts that virtually all whites harbor toward black people. Over the years Woods has never evidenced compassion as concerns this incident, nor ever tried to right a wrong perception concerning it.

What goes around, comes around, but it has traveled a precious short distance in this case. Sleep well sour prince, your fame and fortune are still secure.

I have to ask or make this statement. Sure we know that the wife and kids are hurting; however, the wife or every wife or husband of a celebrity should know this might happen. If you don't expect this, then your fairy tale world will be in your dreams for all eternity. Once you wake up and see the real world for what it is, then come in and join us. The world is not a very pretty world. We have corruption, deaths, wars, crimes, adultery, etc... Not everything is PG in this world. Tiger, just keep playing golf like you do. Your wife all she wants is money. Give it to her. Think of her as a whore. The only people I feel for are your kids. Sure you had sex with multiple women. There is no harm in doing so. Just teach your kids to make their own decissions in life. No matter how well mannered we are, we make mistakes. That is why we are only human. You can't put a stop to what god gave us. If your wife receives any money out of your prenauptial, then it was something you drew up before your marriage. if it is afterwards, then you are just paying for her services. For the others out there lurking, you already know you are whores.

Poor Tiger, my heart goes out to him. Like O.J. Simpson, Tiger now realizes what it means to be an Honorary "White" person. The requirement is that you fit the perfect profile that the ruling class decided you are in order that they allow you to make them rich (and a little for yourself too) and have your White wife (keep the wealth in the right place). But, you're not allowed to escape from that box. Tiger never quite found out where he fit in, in THIS world. It's called identity crisis. He knows where he wants to fit but the cost is more than he realized. Dear Tiger, you are what this world forces you to be. Now that you broke the rules of those who assigned you your 'place' there is hell to pay and you don't know where to go for solace. Tiger never knew what his adopted group really thought of him -- till now. Since Tiger never got his identity established properly he may never know what happened to him. The group that Tiger least like to identify with is the one the world sees him as, always has and always will. Figure it out Tiger. Start growing up. May God Bless, because you need the Lord more than ever before.

The solution to this is for people to stop giving a rat's a@@ about celebrities, especially sports and entertainment idols. They are just like you and I and generally a lot less bright. Tiger plays golf for Christ's sake. Bread and circuses everyone.

Cheating? Only in naive lower middle class America.
Mrs. Woods is a sophisticated European from an educated family and Europeans have always known that very wealthy, very successful men will have some extra marital flings from time to time.
Go back to JFK and Jackie Kennedy, both from the Northeast old rich establishment. Jackie O knew that JFK had women on the side but accepted it as part of human nature.
So did Mr.s Woods. Extremely wealthy, famous, physically at the prime of his life athlete Tiger Woods who was on the road perhaps 25 weeks a year on business. Do you think Mrs. Woods would have been naive enough to think that at the end of the day when he was on the road Tiger would just pop a beer top, plop in front of the telly and stay all night in his hotel room? Sure, just like a Joe Shmoe making sales calls on the road in his sales territory. American naivety is hilarious.
Elin Woods was furious because of the tabloid National Enquirer coming out with the mistress story which made her publicly embarrassed.
If it had not been for the media coverage, she would have just followed the live and let live attitude which upper class Europeans follow because they know that it is basic human nature for successful men to do what Tiger did.
Now, she is smart enough to demand a renegotiation of their prenuptial in her favour because she has the Tiger by the tail.
Tiger's only slip up was he wasn't discrete enough. Lesson learned young man.

Let's be frank about this: man's resolve--generally--is no match for what women have you know where; "it" is the most powerful force in the universe.

Regarding your reasonings: "... but he earned those deals because he's the greatest golfer of his generation, not because he's a paragon of personal virtue."

I’m not sure I get what most media critics/analysts have said about Tiger’s right to privacy, in that his private life is his own--he’s not in public office or have not done something to gain an advantage in his field of endeavor, etc. How about this: “those who live (earns $$) by the sword (media), die by the sword”. Didn’t he become a more “public figure” by endorsing all those products and having his face plastered over most media? I’m not sure why he can use the media to earn his millions, and then deny they the right for the media to earn theirs? Shouldn't it work both ways?

Of course whether serious journalistist should be covering this stuff or how much time media spends on the Tiger situation, that's a whole different and more important blog....

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