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Tiger Woods' apology: Can he stay private in a gossip-fueled world?

Tiger Woods has given himself a herculean task.

Not recovering from sex addiction. Or winning back his wife and family after a series of tawdry affairs ruined his billion-dollar image. Or winning golf tournaments and major endorsements after being TMZ's punching bag for three months and counting.

Woods' goal is tougher than all that. He wants to get out of a 21st century sex scandal without coming clean.

In an age where revelation seems a part of the redemption story, can Tiger Woods flip the script?

"I understand the press wants me to — wants to ask me for the details of the times I was unfaithful," said Woods about two-thirds of the way through his televised mea culpa Friday, which started with the visibly emotional and nervous golf legend admitting, "I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior I engaged in."

Still, even while confessing adultery in his first public statements since a November car accident revealed up to a dozen extramarital affairs, Tiger drew a line in the sand: "Every one of these questions, and answers, is a matter between Elin and me. These are issues between a husband and a wife."

In a speech that seemed partly a 12-step therapy session and partly a lawyer-approved plea to his absent wife, Woods appeared in Ponte Vedra Beach and apologized for about 16 minutes, facing down a world of doubters, critics and disappointed fans, swatting down rumors, denying he ever used performance-enhancing drugs and denouncing the press.

Unfortunately, Woods stands at the center of the world's largest sex scandal when we have never had a greater appetite for the details of powerful people's sordid escapades. And there are billion-dollar media industries built on feeding that hunger.

So in taking the stage like a world dignitary for a speech aired live on all the major TV networks, cable news channels and online video sites, Woods has set his massive fame against a media culture where photos of a shaved-bald Britney Spears can fetch $300,000 and the current big money shot is one featuring him and his wife.

"He wants to have it both ways — he wants to be a private person, but he also wants those $100 million contracts, (which) requires us to like him," said Mark Macias, a crisis communication expert, former TV producer with Inside Edition and author of the book Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media.

Macias blamed the rise of online social media for creating fans who expect access to celebrities' inner lives as easily as they can look up a Facebook friend's relationship status. But he expects Woods' fame and long future as a golf star to eventually outweigh the scandal.

"If his marriage survives as his wife sticks with him, it could even become one of those redemption stories we cite as an inspiration," Macias said. "I think it was smart he did not announce a specific return; he's building suspense, which was good for his brand."

But in today's big name scandals, we're used to someone eventually spilling the story in detail.

Consider Jenny Sanford. She scored the ultimate jilted spouse's revenge, penning a tell-all book on South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's dalliances so quickly, you wonder if she wasn't roughing out details the day he started his infamously fraudulent "hike up the Appalachian Trail." Andrew Young, the disquietingly slick aide to onetime presidential candidate John Edwards, also wrote a bestselling book about helping his former boss cover up his affair and love child.

Indeed, minutes after Woods' apology ended, a porn star who claimed a long-term relationship with the golfer held her own news conference, alleging they had unprotected sex and she quit the industry because of him.

In years past, these people might have been ostracized. Now, they are celebrities who sit across from Larry King and Diane Sawyer.

Richard Weiner, a Miami public relations consultant writing a book on the history of gossip, blamed the hero-shattering impact of stories like Watergate and Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky for creating the current gossip climate.

"It's hard to know whether the media is reflecting the public's taste or ahead of them and influencing them," he said. "But when we learn of (celebrity) peccadillos, it makes them more equal to us, which makes us feel good."

Some other observations about Woods' apology:

He inoculated wife Elin, who wasn't present, against any charges of domestic violence: "Some people have speculated that Elin somehow hurt or attacked me on Thanksgiving night. It angers me that people would fabricate a story like that. Elin never hit me that night or any other night. There has never been an episode of domestic violence in our marriage, ever."

He admitted celebrity entitlement: "I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. ...I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me."

Don't expect him back on the golf course anytime soon: "I do plan to return to golf one day. I just don't know when that day will be. I don't rule out that it will be this year. When I do return, I need to make my behavior more respectful of the game."

Tabloid gossip reporters need to back off: "Despite the damage I have done, I still believe it is right to shield my family from the public spotlight. ... When my children were born, we only released photographs so that the paparazzi could not chase them. However, my behavior doesn't make it right for the media to follow my 2 1/2-year-old daughter to school and report the school's location. They staked out my wife and they pursued my mom. Whatever my wrongdoings, for the sake of my family: Please leave my wife and kids alone."

It's clear Woods shared more than he wanted to Friday. But it's also clear it won't be enough to stop the behavior he cited.

Until Woods or someone close to him offers some semiofficial version of what happened, there will be space for others — especially his many flings, some of whom already have TV and media deals in place — to offer their version.

And we will be happy to take it for the truth. Until something better comes along.

Your swing, Tiger. Make it a good one.

Eric Deggans can be reached at deggans@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8521. See The Feed blog at blogs.tampabay.com/media.

Tiger Woods' apology: Can he stay private in a gossip-fueled world? 02/19/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 19, 2010 11:31pm]

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