Byline: Roy Greenslade
IF ANYONE wanted a demonstration of a media feeding frenzy, then the treatment of Tiger Woods since his car accident has been a classic example. His house is staked out. He is the number one topic on the internet. Women emerge almost every day to claim to gleeful newspapers that they have played a round with Woods, though not on the golf course.
The golf champion's official website is awash with comments. Some are totally unforgiving. "He is a coward, an idiot, and still does not get it," said one. "You can't earn your living at the public trough and then run and hide and claim privacy issues."
Most of them, unsurprisingly, given that it's his own website, are supportive. A typical example: "It's none of our business... I respect Tiger's written statement and... I hope their marriage can survive. Tiger needs to continue to protect Elin from the Awful Media."
As so often, the messenger is being blamed for the message. The real villains, it is suggested, are evil journalists. Although I may be accused of special pleading by defending my fellow journalists, I cannot agree for a moment with such critics, nor do I have sympathy for Woods who complained about "tabloid scrutiny" and, preposterously, argued that he is standing by "an important and deep principle" that public figures should have a "right to some simple, human measure of privacy".
Let's cut through the pomposity with some hard facts. Woods is a public person, not simply by virtue of his golfing prowess but also by having parlayed his sporting fame to his commercial advantage. He has made millions of dollars from advertising contracts and endorsements that have rested squarely on his wholesome image as a handsome, upright, clean-cut, respectful, hard-working and, until now, entirely scandal-free individual.
Nor can he claim, as others in his position have tried to in the past, that his status as a role model has been thrust upon him. He has openly embraced it. "I think it's an honour to be a role model," he was once quoted as saying. "If you are given a chance to be a role model, I think you should always take it because you can influence a person's life in a positive light, and that's what I want to do."
He polished his image until it shone, acting as a loving son to his parents and openly grieving for his father at his death, creating a foundation for disadvantaged children, and speaking often in interviews of his devotion to his two children and his wife, Elin.
Despite occasional bouts of tetchiness when playing tournaments, he always appeared at ease off the golf course. He exemplified the Corinthian spirit.
Here was a man of integrity, of iron self-discipline. As Dave Czesniuk, a Boston-based academic who studies the relationship between sport and society, said in an Associated Press interview: "No one has approached this level of perfection on and off the playing surface, maybe ever, without a single blot or tarnish. The real story here is the meeting of expectations with reality. The guy's a human being and we forget that. …