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Tiger Woods regrets 'transgressions'

He makes an apologetic statement on his website as tabloids continue to run with the story and others wonder about the 'smotherage' of the reporting on his personal life.

December 03, 2009|By David Wharton

Like a tricky downhill putt, the Tiger Woods story keeps rolling along, gaining momentum with each new turn.

The latest developments emerged Wednesday with an US Weekly report that linked him to yet another alleged mistress and the release of a voice mail that Woods allegedly left on her phone.

The megastar golfer -- known for zealously guarding his privacy -- posted a lengthy statement on his website, apologizing to fans for his "transgressions" and asking that he be allowed to deal with the situation "behind closed doors."

As the media frenzy surrounding him approaches the end of its first full week, a new question arises: When does it all end?

Or, as some media experts and ethicists are asking, when should it end?

"I think that people are starting to understand this is probably a decent guy and he's having trouble in his marriage," said David Rosen, an author and culture critic. "And it isn't anybody's business."

As a news story, Woods represents the perfect storm, an immensely successful athlete with a pretty blond wife who built himself into a marketing juggernaut, becoming the spokesman for cars, razors and clothing.

Then his squeaky-clean image bumped up against a tabloid story about an extramarital affair followed by an incident in which, leaving his home late at night, he ran his car over a fire hydrant and smashed into a neighbor's tree.

Woods has always controlled his image, deciding when and where to face reporters, rarely granting one-on-one interviews. Toward that end, he withdrew from a tournament he was supposed to host in Thousand Oaks this week.

But he has entered new territory, the world of 24-hour cable and Internet blogs that have been churning out speculation about indiscretions and an argument with his wife, allegations that have found their way into more traditional media.

As Thomas Cooper, a professor of media ethics at Emerson College in Boston, put it: "It does tend to be smotherage rather than coverage."

The latest report, from US Weekly, alleges that Woods conducted a 31-month affair with a Los Angeles cocktail waitress named Jaimee Grubbs. The voicemail was made available on the magazine's website.

"Hey, it's, uh, it's Tiger," a man's voice says. "I need you to do me a huge favor."

The caller says that his wife went through his phone. He asks Grubbs to switch to a generic answering message that lists only her number.

While the statement Woods posted does not address any specific allegations, it begins: "I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect."

Woods goes on to lament the "tabloid scrutiny" he and his family have suffered and reiterates that his wife, Elin Nordegren, had nothing to do with injuries he suffered the night of the accident.

With some experts saying Woods has damaged his marketability by refusing to answer questions publicly, the golfer adds: "Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions."

The expectation that celebrities should openly atone for private behavior dates at least to the Puritans, said Rosen, the author of "Sex Scandal America." He calls it "the ritual of public shaming."

Originally, this practice intended -- rightly or wrongly -- to preserve social convention, but Rosen believes any such trappings have fallen away.

"Now we're at the tail end of the morality tale," he said. "We're just watching it as entertainment. There's no moral grab."

Cooper, the media ethicist, does not buy into the argument that Woods has an obligation to face the media because he has previously used it to amass great personal wealth as a pitchman.

"The real story here is pretty small -- someone had an accident and there may have been dysfunctional behavior in a relationship," he said, adding: "That's not much of a case to build for invading someone's privacy."

But the story has caught fire, experts said, for at least two reasons.

There are more forms of media -- including bloggers -- to disseminate information more quickly. This rapid-fire environment has created new expectations.

"We, the consumers, have an insatiable appetite for stories like this," said Martin Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communications. "We're hard-wired for wanting to follow a drama that involves sex and great talent and what looks like secret goings-on."

But the same forces that ignite the story might also cause it to burn out quickly, said L. Lin Wood, an Atlanta attorney who has counseled high-profile clients including the accuser in the civil portion of the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case.

Barring any new allegations, Wood sees coverage of the Woods story dying down in a few weeks, perhaps flaring briefly the next time Woods appears in public, then fading away. The attorney disagrees with marketers who say Woods needs to face reporters.

"To me, it would be undignified for someone like Tiger Woods," he said. "And if you start to feed the media frenzy, it's just going to get bigger and probably last longer."

At the Sherwood Country Club, where Woods was supposed to be playing in the Chevron World Challenge this week, fans supported his handling of the situation.

But a fellow pro golfer, Steve Stricker, wrestled with the issue.

"I'm on that line, I'm on that fence whether that's even our business or not," Stricker said. "Everybody likes to get into these celebrities' personal lives and it's all fascinating and everything but, deep down, what does it really matter?"

david.wharton@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesWharton

Times staff writer Jim Peltz contributed to this report.

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