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Interest in Tiger is only natural

Sure, the latest Tiger Woods personal drama is juicy, but it's also legitimate news. So go ahead and indulge, guiltlessly.

December 11, 2009|James Rainey

I feel as if I should apologize even as I type these words: I, too, am writing about Tiger Woods.

I have been reading many of my colleagues in the commentariat for two weeks. They are pained. They are guilty. They are outraged that they, and America, have been dragged, unwillingly, into this tabloid sinkhole.

At the most serious news outlets, editors have expressed their ambivalence about the long parade of Tiger's Top Models. They've sworn off the babe patrol and assigned weighty stories about corporate sponsorship, human psychology and new media. Oh, to stand in scandal's titillating glow, without your precious reputation getting burned.

Some of my media colleagues have fallen in love, it seems, with their lack of love for this story. It must be tiring being so righteous, so I have some advice for guilty members of the Fourth Estate: Give it a rest.

Why? Because any time one of the world's biggest celebrities, a champion and a hero to millions, suffers a fall from grace, that's a story. It's a big story. And the news people who shrink from covering it willfully turn away from lust, intrigue, fury and . . . who knows, maybe even redemption.

The people squirming over this blockbuster would have labeled the Lindbergh baby kidnapping a "private, family matter." They might have argued that Bill Clinton's pleasure-and-pizza session with Monica Lewinsky should remain a state secret.

Here's the quick back story, for those of you who've been trapped in a diving bell since Thanksgiving, on the L'Affaire Tigre: The world's greatest golfer left his mansion in the wee hours, the morning after the holiday. In a big hurry, he barely made it out of the driveway before slamming a Cadillac Escalade into a fire hydrant, then a tree.

Woods' wife, Elin, wielded a golf club, either to free her husband from the wreckage (as police said she claimed) or to exact revenge on her Tiger (as subsequent events seem to suggest).

Though Woods (known for his exquisite control, at least on the golf course) went quiet, a procession of "hoochie mamas" (more on that later) had a lot to say about the golfer's (alleged) extracurricular exertions.

Credit should go to those few who acknowledged the deep-seated attraction of this tale, among them one man who wrote to National Public Radio.

"Zeus himself cheated on his wives with the likes of Europa and Semele because he was traveling the world and was treated like, well, a god," the radio fan wrote in a letter read over the air. He concluded: "We mortals are always fascinated to discover that the gods really have spikes of clay."

CBSsports.com colum- nist Gregg Doyel put it a little more bluntly: "The sex life of Tiger Woods matters to me." It's just inherently fascinating, Doyel argued. No apologies needed.

But a lot of other mainstream media voices got all twisted in knots, harrumphing one minute about journalism taking the low road, before taking a bit of a spin on that highway themselves.

The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson demanded this week that we all "Leave Tiger alone," before sheepishly conceding that the "unfolding saga is compelling, even if paying attention leaves me feeling a bit disappointed in myself."

Robinson wasn't so disappointed, of course, that it stopped him from musing on about Tiger: Why such low-rent mistresses? And why (asked the African American columnist) all such white-bread Barbie dolls?

The Kansas City Star's Jason Whitlock insisted that the media's behavior represented some sort of watershed moment that "will forever change the way the sports world is covered."

(Apparently he missed Kobe Bryant and the Colorado hotel worker, and a few dozen other sports sex scandals.)

Determined to avoid understatement, Whitlock also asserted that media coverage, not Woods' own shortcom- ings, "will have a dramatic, negative impact on Tiger's pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record for career major championships."

Of course. The media must be held accountable for Woods' troubled marriage and his failure (self-confessed) to live up to his own values. Doubtless there will be some media culpability if, God forbid, the golf god loses his back swing or his knee goes out again.

Does the public have an inherent right to know about Tiger's indiscretions? No. Does Tiger have an inherent right to craft a public persona, and draw tremendous profit from it, without any reality-checking from the press? No.

A public figure should expect a certain amount of intrusion in his life, especially when he takes his personal business into the street.

That's not to condone the dig-through-the-trash, pay-for-any-morsel obsession that some overheated news outlets will apply this time around.

But tell me, who among you does not want to know what really happened between Tiger and his wife after they polished off the pumpkin pie Thanksgiving Day?

Can you honestly say you're not curious about what kind of club found its way into Elin's hands?

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