The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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Tiger Woods: The end of the tabloid media virgin?

When a big story breaks, turning a much-admired celebrity into fodder for the rapacious tabloid media, it's fascinating to watch how all sorts of eye-popping peripheral scoops surface, propelled by the momentum of the original explosion.

Eltigre It's happened again with the Tiger Woods extramarital sex scandal. The New York Post has a doozy of a story, claiming that the National Enquirer had photos of Woods "getting busy" with a woman in an SUV. But instead of publishing the scoop, the Enquirer killed the story in return for the golfer agreeing to pose for a rare cover story for Men's Fitness, a magazine owned by the Enquirer's parent company, American Media.

Now that's what I call media synergy! The Post quotes Neal Boulton, former Men's Fitness editor in chief, saying he left the magazine as the deal was going down. "We were going to do a [quid pro quo] with America's favorite sports star, just to get his name on the cover of the magazine. That was too much for me. That's when I high-tailed it out of there."

Woods appeared on the cover of the August 2007 issue of Men's Fitness, even though he had an exclusive deal with rival Conde Nast's Golf Digest to serve as their "playing editor." (The Post contacted American Media chief David Pecker, who calls the story "absolutely untrue.")

The Post scoop turns up in an equally delicious post by Newser's Michael Wolff, the acid-tongued Vanity Fair media critic, who does a great job of getting to the nub of our fascination with La Affaire Woods. He argues that what we really want to see (in all celebrity boondoggles, not just in the current Woods case) is the collapse of the finely-tuned PR machine that serves to protect celebs from scrutiny, controlling our perceptions of every high-profile movie star, TV actor, hip-hop musician or sports figure.

As Wolff shrewdly points out, the highest drama in a tabloid news story rarely involves the celebrity's original blunder. It's about the suspense that unfolds between the initial explanation for the event and the final elucidation of what actually occurred. As Wollf puts it:

"The real tabloid story occurs in the time between exposure and when the subject gets his response strategy in place. That is, all the tension in the storyline derives from how long it takes the celebrity to get his PR line down. That's the reality-TV aspect of all this: In the midst of great stress and panic, can you get your PR operation to work? ... The essence of that PR operation is to deny reality. To project control, calm, cool ... to, by force of will, spread a blanket of dullness over all salacious details. The essence of the media play is to focus on and to enhance a hyper reality. What we really want to see is the subject writhing on the hook. We want a demonstration of as much public pain and abject humiliation as possible."

It sounds almost sadomasochistic, but that's the nature of our twisted fascination with celebrities today. We treat them as royalty, worshiping them from afar, but when they are found to be less than perfect, we love to see them knocked from their lofty perch. Tiger Woods never asked for celebritydom. It came with the territory of being the world's greatest golfer. He often seemed chilly and remote -- he certainly wasn't the kind of guy you'd want to grab a beer with (like John Daley, who seems to enjoy his beer a little too much). But is being chilly and remote a sin? I don't think so.

Even if Tiger were as jovial as Santa Claus, he'd still be in trouble today. He was a god, but as soon as he proved to be as imperfect as the rest of us, he was fair game for whatever dirt could be thrown at his feet. Ask everyone from Tom Cruise to Alex Rodriguez. We love to build you up, but we love to knock you down even more. 

Photo: Tiger Woods. Credit: Tannen Maury / EPA.

Comments () | Archives (24)

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I disagree with the statement that "Tiger Woods never asked for celebritydom." Tiger Woods carefully crafted an image then sold that image to the highest bidders (Nike, GM, etc.).

His endorsements do come simply because he is the best golfer in the world but that he was the best golfer and everyone liked him (or atleast the image he projected). An example of the opposite is Mike Tyson who was the greatest boxer but no one liked hime so he did not get a lot of endorsements.

What I find complelling about this story is how different Tiger realy is from his carefully crafted publis image.

Good article. Sad but true. America (where this story will linger the longest), is a complete empty shell of humanity. Lives so empty and full of inner anger that you thrive, live an breath on those that fall from grace.

Woods is a winner and he will survive this, break all the records and be known as the greatest golfer to have ever play the game. And that is all anyone should care about or be focused on.

Until you walk in someone elses shoes, no one should pass judgement.

Whether folks believe it or not, he is human being and not perfect. No one is. How do folks slam Tiger but lose sight of the other side of the coin and the gals (whores really) that had no problem tossing Elin aside and go after a piece of Tiger Inc.

No ones business but theirs.

I look forward to Tiger coming back and winning and I hope he never says another word to the media again.

Tiger may be the best golfer in the world but he is the worst judge of women. He marries a nanny thgt is beautiful and is used up for his fame and fortune and then goes out for more whores, WTF he is an idiot in real life and will pay darely for it. WTF no woman wants to be with him other than to claim his fortune and fame.

Your still my hero Tiger!

It seems as if a lot of stories almost imply that there is something wrong with a public that wants the true story and maybe the public ought to explain its interest about a story be it positive or negative lest the public be found immoral somehow. How does the public owe any celebrity for anything? On the contrary, the celebrity is nothing without the public. Simple fact, mitigated somewhat by the fact that much of the public seems to lack the ability to entertain itself. However, the public is always the real God in the celebrity equation, not the celebrity who no matter how much talent they may actually have, is invisible if the public wishes.
Now Tiger does owe the public and any golfer owes the public more than athletes from team sports like football. This is because, without advertising, golf vanishes as a money career. So if Tiger presents himself as a tool of advertisers in order to really pull in the loot (and he does) then he never was any "media virgin" and saying that he never asked to be in the public eye is sheer nonsense!

"We love to build you up, but we love to knock you down even more."

yes, so true. and it makes me sick because what it says subliminally to all of us is, be careful how high you climb, it's a long way down. (oh,m and the more rich and successful you are, the more everyone hates you)

so, as a country that used to strive for the best, but is now lazy, fat and stupid - we resent someone as "perfect" as tiger woods and can't wait to prove he's not really perfect. REALLY? did anyone actually think he was perfect? of course not.

and here's the real deal - to all of you who get such a kick out of watching him "fall" - the bottom line is one from Judge Judy, but could also be said about Tiger:

Tiger had been playing the field for a long time and obviously had his inner circle deflecting trouble and keeping the women flowing...
He repented the moment he was caught which is all to typical. Most likely he would have kept the affairs going but was caught..
I've met the man and really liked him. Still do....

A little advice for Tiger... The rule of thumb is to deny, deny deny. But once the wife got a hold of your cell phone it was all over. And with both mothers there that night, and a pissed off wife, it must have been too hot to handle for the world's number one, which is why he tried to fly the coop but was reeled in by a fire hydrant, a tree, and a former swedish model wielding a 3 iron.
FORE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It's only sadomasochistic if the recipient of the pain likes it.

He probably doesn't.

Hence, it should seem "sadistic" to see pain inflicted on the subject.

But hey, you're a writer and I'm a computer programmer, what do I know. I'm sure your editor would have fixed it.

I disagree that he didn't ask for celebritydom. He appears in commercials (Buick, Gillette) - and while I understand companies may be sponsors, he has gone beyond just getting corporate sponsorship to fund his golfing. He's not like an aspiring athlete who needs money to pay for cleats or a trip to regionals.

If he was just a golfer, even if he wins the most tournaments, earns the most prize-money, then I would agree that he doesn't seek to be a celebrity. He's simply trying to do what he is good at (playing golf). He can't help if he is good at it.

But once he starts endorsing products (which he essentially does when he appears on commercials), he's no longer "just an athlete". He's become a celebrity and with it comes all the downsides of being famous (paparazzi, lack of privacy, etc).

Actually, the real crime is the obscene amount of money the public pays for his innocuous talent and the stupidity of people who think it doesn't cause .

He certainly isn't compensated for being a moral or intellectual titan. Nah, that stuff is boring.

We want to pay to see something as stupid as a grown man who can spend the least amount time swinging a stick at ball and knocking it into the ground.

And then wonder why life's most opportunistic people use their do everything posssible to get a piece of that monetary action (in the case of his philandering mistresses) or why these overpaid freaks want to cash in their fame for other fleeting pleasures.

We get what we paid for then moralize about how it could have happened.

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