At the beginning of the month, as the Tiger Woods scandal was first breaking, Charles P. Pierce of Esquire wrote, “I can’t say I’m surprised — either by the allegations or by what’s ensued since Friday’s wreck:”
Back in 1997, one of the worst-kept secrets on the PGA Tour was that Tiger was something of a hound. Everybody knew. Everybody had a story. Occasionally somebody saw it, but nobody wanted to talk about it, except in bar-room whispers late at night. Tiger’s People at the International Management Group visibly got the vapors if you even implied anything about it. However, from that moment on, the marketing cocoon around him became almost impenetrable. The Tiger Woods that was constructed for corporate consumption was spotless and smooth, an edgeless brand easily peddled to sheikhs and shakers. The perfect marriage with the perfect kids slipped so easily into the narrative it seemed he’d been born married.
Anything dissonant was dealt with quickly and mercilessly. Tiger’s caddy, an otherwise unemployable thug named Steve Williams, regularly harassed any spectator whom Williams thought might eventually harsh his man’s mellow. The IMG handlers differed from Williams only in that they were slightly more polite. The golfing press became aware that stories about Tiger’s temper, say, or about his ties to unsavory corporate grifters, would mean the end of access to the only golfer in the world who matters. There is a quick way to tell now which journalists have made this devil’s bargain and which ones haven’t — the ones insisting that this “accident” is somehow “not a story” are the sopranos in the chorus.
But the more impenetrable Tiger’s cocoon was, the more fragile it became. It was increasingly vulnerable to anything that happened that was out of the control of the people who built and sustained it, and the events of last week certainly qualify. Now he’s got one of those major Media Things on his hands, and there is nothing that he, nor IMG, nor the clinging sponsors, nor anyone else can do about it. He is going to be everyone’s breakfast for the foreseeable future. (Among his many headaches, there is absolutely no way that the Enquirer quits on this story. See Edwards, John.) And he’s going to be some kind of punch line for the most of the rest of his public career. There is some historical irony in all that, and not just for myself.
Howard Kurtz, today, “How on Earth did we miss it?”
With all the reporters, sportswriters, paparazzi and celebrity chroniclers chasing after the world’s top golfer, how did Tiger Woods keep his extracurricular activities secret for so long?
All those party girls and nightclub hostesses, who now appear starved for attention, and yet no tabloid got wind of the fact that Woods was scoring away from the links, again and again?
The episode exposes the dark secret of the boldface-names beat: It’s a shared illusion, perpetrated by the media-industrial complex. We don’t really know these people who are cloaked in the mantle of fame, despite their ubiquity on our front pages and television screens and laptops.
When Woods was driven to the sidelines by the relentless coverage of his tawdry affairs, the multiple mistresses seemed utterly at odds with his squeaky-clean image. But that image was a carefully crafted construct, since journalists — and everyone else — had little access to the player he truly was. He is a man with the extraordinary ability to hit a white ball into a little hole, but beyond that, we were all had.
As the Professor writes:
How long before we hear “we were all had” about Barack Obama? When it becomes unmistakable that the narrative was a lie, I’d guess.
Update (12/18/09): Welcome Insta-readers; and a quick follow-up to the Pierce article above. Pierce wrote that among Tiger’s many headaches, “there is absolutely no way that the Enquirer quits on this story. See Edwards, John.”
If so, perhaps it’s the Enquirer trying to make up for quitting once before:
Golf Digest editor Jerry Tarde acknowledged that he was “mystified” that Mr. Woods had agreed to this. Under Golf Digest’s contract with Mr. Woods, the monthly, which is owned by Condé Nast Publications Inc., spent as much as $1 million annually on donations to the Tiger Woods Foundation, printing the charity’s annual report and sponsoring many of Mr. Woods’s preferred tournaments, according to a person familiar with the terms. In return, Mr. Woods agreed to contribute monthly articles on golf techniques and limit his appearances in competing publications.
Yet never had Golf Digest been granted the level of access to the golfer’s private life allowed for in the article and photo shoot published in Men’s Fitness in August 2007. Mr. Tarde says he did not object because the interview wasn’t a violation of Golf Digest’s agreement with Mr. Woods. He said he assumed Mr. Woods had agreed to the interview as a way to generate publicity for his trainer, Keith Kleven. Mr. Kleven, who was quoted extensively in the Men’s Fitness article, did not return calls for comment.
Mr. Woods had cut an unusual deal with American Media Inc., the owner of both Men’s Fitness magazine and the National Enquirer tabloid newspaper. Mr. Woods agreed to the cover shot and photo spread in Men’s Fitness, whose circulation of about 700,000 per issue is less than half of Golf Digest’s nearly 1.7 million, in return for the National Enquirer squelching a story and photographs purportedly showing Mr. Woods in a liaison with a woman who wasn’t his wife, according to people directly involved in the arrangement.
American Media Inc. denies there was any deal to quash photos of Mr. Woods in a compromising situation. In written statements to the Journal on Dec. 11, the company said descriptions of a deal between American Media and Mr. Woods were “inaccurate” and “false.” A spokeswoman and a lawyer for the company declined to specify the inaccuracies, but said sources who described such an agreement were “misinformed.” Asked whether there was any deal made with Mr. Woods to quash a written article, the lawyer said “no comment.”
Read the whole thing, as the Professor is wont to say.