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MARK HEISLER / COMMENTARY

Public's fascination with celebrities fuels coverage of Tiger Woods incident

We all should really butt out, but it's too much fun to keep following the story.

December 03, 2009|By Mark Heisler

All I know about Tiger Woods is what I see on TV, which seems to be all anybody knows about him. I remember the Sports Illustrated cover story on him when the magazine spent six months following him from Dubai to other golf stops, and got one sit-down with Woods.

Self-obsessed as Woods is, I'm not sure I'd like him if I knew him, although apparently the number of people who know him is in two figures, counting employees.

Nevertheless, I have one question regarding his current scandal:

Why can't we butt out?

That's easy: We're having way too much fun.

By "we," I mean everyone -- the media in all its platforms, the experts, and the vast audience.

If we go crazy about everything in the Internet Age, this is the Mother Lode:

Megastar Married to Drop-Dead Gorgeous Model, Who May or May Not Have Attacked His Car With Two of His Golf Clubs in What May or May Not Have Been an Argument About His Cheating, as Another Gorgeous Woman Comes Forward to Claim She Had Affair With Him, Offering Digital Proof!

All we're missing is a capital crime, or actually any crime, and a slow-speed car chase and it's the Crime, er, Story, of the Century, and I don't care if it is only 2009.

As it is, it was off the charts, although it may have just run out of legs with Woods' apology, however strained, and the police response -- writing him a ticket.

So we get maximum coverage, with ESPN running a video loop of Woods' home, shot from a helicopter in daylight, showing him pulling out of his driveway . . . over and over . . . although he's not driving his SUV, and this isn't the incident in question.

Sometime in the future, we'll get an actual Woods sighting, probably in a sit-down with someone from ESPN. Woods will say what he has already said in a more engaging way, since he's an engaging guy, however selectively, and everyone will move on.

As it is, there's no nationwide outcry, as opposed to nationwide fascination, or voyeurism.

An ESPN state-by-state poll (takeoff on electoral map, get it?) found 50 states that weren't offended and none that were.

Of course, there is one question no one can answer, although everyone has an answer for it:

What business is this of ours?

If the worst is true, it was a domestic argument that had violent overtones, although no one was hurt or filed a complaint.

So this is between Mr. Eldrick Woods, AKA Tiger, and Mrs. Woods, AKA Elin Nordegren. If he has some explaining to do, it's to her, not us.

As if we're going to leave it there.

The modern rule on privacy is, if there's enough interest, believe me, we can figure out a way to make their business our business. I'm not talking about that silly role model argument. Our kids are smarter than that.

Wednesday, as developments suggested the story was winding down, everyone lurched into Will This Taint Tiger's Image? mode.

Let's put it this way, if it doesn't, I'd hate to see what it would take.

In the standard bow to commercial priorities, ESPN interviewed public relations magnate Mike Paul, who noted -- accurately -- that Woods' statement of apology should have skipped the complaints about tabloid coverage and fell short of showing a "repentant" or a "humble heart."

(I don't mean to make ESPN the agent of all this, since we're all involved, including newspapers. ESPN is just the one everyone watches.)

Guess what. There was no getting out of this one unscathed.

That's celebrity. No one gets out of anything unscathed, even if it's as silly as the criticism of LeBron James for not congratulating players, or trying to get NBA players wearing No. 23 to give it up, as he was, to honor Michael Jordan.

I'd bet all I have that Woods will go on to have a long, glorious career and retire as one of our most beloved sportsmen. Nevertheless, he'll have to endure another few days, or weeks, of this stuff.

You know his worst case scenario?

He could lose a sponsor, or all his sponsors.

In that case, Woods, who already has earned $1 billion, will have to get by on the tens of millions or so he could make in a money market fund, plus the $10 million or so he wins on the PGA Tour annually.

Even that is unimaginable. Nike, his biggest-ticket corporate partner, said it's standing by him, as did Gillette and Gatorade.

Jordan's agent, David Falk, who helped his client shatter the barrier on minorities as commercial spokesmen, once noted that celebrities don't have race.

As we have seen, barring an actual conviction, celebrities don't just transcend race, they transcend everything.

Except us, of course. As fans, viewers, readers, publishers, networks, et al, we giveth and we taketh away.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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