2010 cases: Tiger Woods

Kristen English

1. Introduction of the Case

Tiger Woods, the world-famous American professional golfer, had always been recognized by the media for his outstanding athletic achievements, and he was portrayed in a positive light. But in 2009, when the truth about his numerous marital infidelities unfolded, the media’s coverage of Tiger was no longer positive. The tabloid press and mainstream media became obsessed with the scandal and went into a full frenzy. The National Enquirer was the first to report that Tiger Woods was having an affair, and others were quick to follow. Rumors instantly began circulating the web, and celebrity news websites, such as TMZ, had stories on the Internet immediately.

The National Enquirer was the first to break the story about Tiger’s relationship with another woman. Just days later, on November 27, 2009, Tiger crashed his vehicle into a tree and a fire hydrant outside his Florida home. The combination of Tiger’s alleged affair and early-morning car crash instantly sparked the interest of the media. William C. Rhoden’s New York Times article, “Time for Woods to Put a Face on the Apology”, discusses how the scandal was “one of the most dramatic falls from grace in sports history” and “the world’s hottest celebrity story.” Rhoden described the coverage as “a story that has raged like wildfire.” He declared, “Woods cannot hide, not on his yacht, not inside his mansions” and he made it clear that the media was out to attack Woods’ “pristine image as a winner”(Rhoden, 2009). All of the media outlets were eager to get the details, and it seems as if they had no limits when it came to Tiger’s privacy.

“Sexuality and Society”, a blog kept by two women that hold PhDs in Sociology, posted an article that examines the coverage of Woods. Shari L. Dworkin points out the private aspects of Tiger’s life that the media publicized. She explains that numerous articles contained discussion about “…his ‘big appetite’ for sex, his enjoyment of ‘girl-on-girl sex’ and how he ‘wanted to be with them together,’ his ‘endurance,’ the difficulty some of his mistresses had in ‘keeping up with him,’ in bed and his wish to party 24/7 on the weekends with a large number of women” (Dworkin, 2009). These personal details about Tiger Woods circulated quickly, and the majority of the media outlets began to frame Woods as a sex addict. The content in the reports on Tiger’s affairs spiraled out of control and robbed Tiger of the little privacy he had.

The Internet was an essential factor in the Tiger Woods scandal. However, several mistakes were made, specifically by the popular celebrity news website, TMZ. Paul Farhi dissects the careless reporting in an American Journalism Review article titled “Lost in the Woods.” The review shows that a few days after the car crash, TMZ claimed, “Tiger Woods did not suffer facial lacerations from a car accident…they were inflicted by his wife, Elin Nordegren.” Contradicting their prior report, on December 30, TMZ reported that Florida highway patrol officers said, “Tiger’s appearance gave them no reason to believe he was the victim of domestic violence.” The error in their domestic violence report was not TMZ’s only slip-up. Farhi’s review points out that TMZ “reported on December 3 that Woods might be paying Uchitel [his alleged mistress] for her silence; the next day it said no money had changed hands.” Farhi discusses the news environments’ “poorly sourced information” and “value on speed rather than accuracy or reliability.” He ended his article by saying “the biggest scandal to come out of the Woods affair wasn’t the one about the golfer…it was the one about the news media”(Farhi, 2010). After analyzing the coverage, that statement rings true without a doubt.

The media’s obsession with the scandal left Tiger Woods demanding privacy. In the New York Times article, “Woods Apologizes and Gets Support”, Tiger’s public apology is discussed. The article quotes Woods’ website where he stated, “I am dealing with my behavior and personal feelings behind closed doors with my family…those feelings should be shared by us alone.” The Times article also said “he spent much of his 317-word statement pleading for privacy, saying in part, ‘Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn’t have to mean public confessions’”(Dorman, 2009). Tiger’s plea clearly showed the issue of privacy in this case.

The professional questions and journalistic issues that emerge in this case are similar to those in the “Internet Journalism and the Starr Investigation” case on the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal. In both cases the Internet played a significant role, and it was used to inform the public of the latest news on the scandals. In the Clinton scandal the Dallas Morning News made a serious blunder, and in the Tiger Woods scandal TMZ made several reports, and then later reversed them. Analysis of the two cases shows the drawbacks of Internet journalism, and the issues of privacy and verification. The news organizations had to be careful when determining what was factual and what were rumors because of the vast amount of information circulating. They also had to ensure the information they published was reliable and that they could verify the claims they made.

The media coverage of the Tiger Woods scandal posed questions about journalists’ use of the Internet, Tiger Woods’ right to privacy, and fairness when reporting on scandals involving public figures. An interesting angle and argument for this case is the fact that Tiger’s career and popularity has been centered on his status as a “family man.” This justifies the media defying his privacy, because he defied everything he stood for.

2. Broader Research into the Context of the Case

Understanding the developing popularity of entertainment news, the market-driven competition among media outlets, and the coverage of public figures helps set the stage for the case about the Tiger Woods scandal. Journalism has changed, and the line that differentiates news and entertainment is currently a blur. Today, the media is willing to spend their energy to go after a certain public figure, and scandalous stories, because of the cutthroat competition among the media. Research on these topics helps explain the motives behind the coverage of Tiger Woods.
The article “An Alternate Success Story”, discusses an entrepreneur’s successful entertainment tabloid and the increasing popularity of entertainment news. It notes, “during the past three decades, magazines such as People and Entertainment Weekly, television programs such as Entertainment Tonight and the cable networks MTV and E! Entertainment Television found tremendous success.” It also describes the major content changes that traditional media outlets have undergone. It states that daily newspapers “have stepped up in their concentration on entertainment and the arts throughout the years…many larger papers even devote their entire pullout sections to these areas.” Because of society’s emergent interest in celebrity “…media outlets fight to the death to get the next big star on their magazine cover or talk show” (Case, 1994). Another article titled, “The Family Business: Entertainment Products and the Network Morning News Shows”, notes the changes that have occurred in the preferences of viewers. A chart of statistics in the article shows that network programs are increasing their percentage of entertainment stories. About thirty percent of Good Morning America’s, and twenty percent of the Today show, are on entertainment stories (Cleary, 2009). Today, reports on celebrity news is what people want to watch and read. This explains why the Tiger Woods scandal was such a drawn-out and dramatized topic in the news.

Additional research on market-driven journalism and media helps when approaching this case. Elisia L. Cohen’s “Online Journalism as Market-Driven Journalism” discusses how certain things, such as technology, have changed the practices of journalism. The article states that in market-driven journalism, viewers and readers are transformed into customers and news is transformed into the product. She also mentions, “investors, advertisers, sources, and consumers drive news production processes at different junctures.” The more investors, advertisers and consumers an online site accumulates, the more successful it is in its journalistic efforts. She also points out, “Commercial pressures of the new media environment are changing media firm and journalist routines, as well as shaping traditional news values”(Cohen, 2002).

It is critical that news firms and journalists have the support of advertisers and investors for their online journalism. In order to get their support, they must be on top of the current stories, and ahead of the competition. On the “About TMZ.com” page on the TMZ website, they accredit their “meteoric rise” to their 2005 exclusives on two of the biggest stories in entertainment. They claim “TMZ altered the entertainment news landscape by changing the way the public gets its news.” It is “one of the most-cited entertainment news sources” and it is clearly market-driven. They try to have the quickest responses to celebrity stories, and want to attract as many “consumers” as possible.

Understanding the context of Internet journalism helps give an explanation for the coverage of Tiger Woods.  Websites such as TMZ quickly responded with numerous articles concerning Tiger’s affairs. They went into detail on Tiger’s private life in order to draw people to their site. The reason why the list of mistresses was on-going was because if a certain media outlet discovered one more mistress, they had a leg-up on the competition. This caused the number of alleged affairs, photos, and texts to increase significantly within a short period of time. All the news outlets were trying to outdo one another, and get the latest leaks on the scandal.

Research of the way media covers public figures helps give a broader understanding of this case. Keith D. Willis’ article “Paparazzi, Tabloids, and the New Hollywood Press: Can Celebrities Claim a Defensible Publicity Right in Order to Prevent the Media from Following their Every Move?” goes into a deep discussion on the issue of privacy. It states the reasons why judiciary has been hesitant to recognize celebrity privacy rights. It declares, “Celebrities are considered public figures who, by nature of their profession, have essentially waived their right to privacy.” The majority of public figures believe the media infringes on their private life, but the media’s reporting is defensible, for public figures are “substantially without a right of privacy” (Willis, 2007).

In the case of Carlisle v. Fawcett Publications, a famous actress accused an entertainment magazine of invading her privacy after the magazine published a report on her many marriages and sexual encounters. The court “held that the actress did not have a viable claim.” (Willis, 2007).

All of this information and research leads to a deeper understanding of the case on the Tiger Woods scandal. The popularity of entertainment news explains why all media outlets were covering Tiger Woods. The competitive nature of journalism gives a reason for the continuing coverage the scandal received. Most importantly, the fact that public figures do not have a right to privacy validates the journalists who reported on the infidelities.

3. Key Questions

 

This case brings up the following questions:

 

1. TMZ made serious mistakes in their online reports on the possibility of domestic violence the night of Woods’ car crash. Does journalists’ use of the Internet have the potential to compromise accuracy and fairness?

This is an extremely important question, because the Internet is becoming increasingly popular as a source for news. However, if Internet reports potentially lack the fundamentals of journalism, what can journalists do to ensure they avoid this problem?

2. Tiger Woods made a public plea for privacy, but did he have any right to privacy at all?

This is another important question, for the issue of privacy exists in numerous cases in today’s society. But in the case of Tiger Woods, he is a public figure, paid by endorsements, and has sold his right to privacy. Numerous times in the past and more recently, journalists have been attacked for infringing on celebrities personal lives. However, they truly do not have any right to privacy, so the infringement on their privacy is justifiable.

3. In this situation, what is the right thing to do?
This has to do with the aspect of fairness in journalism. Which in this case, relates to the right to privacy. Tiger has been making money from his image as a polished, athletic, “family man.” However, once his image was tarnished by the news on his numerous affairs, his true image needed to be revealed to the public.

4. What kind of checking could journalists have done, for both online and print articles, to do a better job in their coverage on the scandal?

The journalists had a problem with sourcing and verification, because there were so many accounts of Tiger’s unfaithfulness. Checking would have led to better coverage.

4. Teacher’s Guide to the Case

 

This case focuses on two main issues. The first is the issue of a public figure’s right to privacy and the second is the negative aspects of Internet journalism. These two journalistic challenges are fundamental to media coverage.

To get the class thinking about the challenge of privacy, the teacher could start by asking question 2. Privacy is such a controversial topic that engagement with peers is needed in order to understand all aspects of the problem. Some may argue that the media took it too far with their coverage of Tiger Woods, and some may agree with the fact that people sell their privacy when they become public figures. However, even though students will disagree, it is important that students understand both sides of the issue. Fairness and ethics could also be discussed in order to help the students’ thoughts grow on the ever-present challenge of privacy. Using role-playing when discussing the coverage of Tiger Woods would be beneficial.

When discussing Internet journalism, the teacher could begin by asking question 1. As students contributed to the discussion, the teacher could make a list of the advantages and disadvantages on the projector screen. The teacher could structure the discussion similar to the issue of privacy, by using role-playing to see what students would rather be: the first to report on the story with a mistake, or the slower, but more accurate reporter.

I would want students to learn that when it comes to the issue of privacy, journalists have every right to defy a public figure’s privacy, and fulfill their job as society’s monitor and watchdog. I would also want them to learn that checking is crucial for Internet reporting, and that they should not compromise the truth for the competition, because truth is the first element of journalism.

5. References

“About TMZ.com.” Celebrity Gossip | Entertainment News | Celebrity News | TMZ.com. Web. 13 Nov. 2010. <http://www.tmz.com/&gt;

Case, Tony. “An Alternative Success Story.” Editor & Publisher 127.17 (1994).

Cleary, Johanna, and Terry Adams-Bloom. “The Family Business: Entertainment Products and the Network Morning News Shows.” Mass Communication & Society 12.1 (2009): 78-96.

Cohen, Elisia L. “Online Journalism as Market-Driven Journalism.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. 2002.

Dorman, Larry and Stuart Elliott. “Woods Apologizes and Gets Support.” The New York Times. 3 Dec. 2009. <www.nytimes.com/>.

Dworkin, Shari L. “Critically Examining Media Coverage of Tiger Woods: Sex Addict, Masculine Privilege, or Racialized Sexuality in Sport?” Weblog post. Sexuality and Society. 17 Dec. 2009.

Farhi, Paul. “Lost in the Woods.” American Journalism Review. 2010.

Lasica, J.D. “Internet Journalism and the Starr Investigation.” Thinking Clearly: Cases in Journalistic Decision-Making. Ed. Tom Rosenstiel and Amy S. Mitchell. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. 23-56.

Rhoden, William C. “Time for Woods to Put a Face on the Apology.” The New York Times. 13 Dec. 2009. <www.nytimes.com/>.

Willis, Keith D. “Paparazzi, Tabloids, and the New Hollywood Press: Can Celebrities Claim a Defensible Publicity Right in Order to Prevent the Media from Following Their Every Move?” Texas Review of Entertainment & Sports Law 9.1 (2007): 175-202.

 

 

6. Other Resources

 

In this video, a lawyer discusses the guidelines of privacy for public figures. He also talks about how privacy plays out in the case of Tiger Woods.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yg-RQrULoCk

 

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