Woods Feeds Media’s Need for Frenzy
Watching Tiger Woods' well-rehearsed statement apologizing for cheating on his wife to a hand-picked group of family, friends and friendly media members on Friday -- and watching the reaction to it, which went on much longer -- the same question kept coming to mind.
Why, if Woods was going to simply read a statement, take no questions and disappear behind the curtain he appeared from, heading back to therapy, did he bother to do this at all?
And why, if they were glorified stenographers, did the media show up? (Some didn't; the Golf Writers of America declined to send three pool reporters.) The answer may be complex, requiring intricate analysis of a person's desire to confess in person, a public act of contrition (Tiger), combined with the natural desire to be a part of something big, to feel chosen (the media).
Or it might be something as simple as this:
Tiger and the media need each other.
Let's go with the latter.
Think about it. Since Thanksgiving night, when Woods plowed his car into a tree on his estate, the media have fed on the story of his serial infidelities, offering up more and more salacious details, of which there have been a gracious plenty. There are very few of his personal choices that we don't know about -- no matter whether we really want to.
When word came down early last week that Woods would hold a ... a what? It wasn't a news conference, exactly, because he wouldn't be taking questions.
Perhaps a media event was the best way to describe it. Certainly it fit that bill, with all three major broadcast networks breaking into programming to carry it live.
Whatever you want to call it, when Woods' team made the announcement that he would finally show himself after all this time and speak, the furor was both immediate and sustained. Some pundits actually offered this rationalization for the coverage: We have to be there in case something happens, just like we cover everything President Obama does.
Interesting theory, with one problem:
WOODS IS NOT THE PRESIDENT. Of anything.
He is, however, an international superstar, and he managed to become one almost solely on the basis of his incredible talent -- he offered next to nothing about himself beyond how hard he works -- which of course made the media crave such information all the more.
The media, particularly the sports media -- beyond question the golf media -- depend upon someone like Woods, someone who people genuinely care about, for whatever reason. He sells papers, singlehandedly elevates television ratings, is personally responsible for ever-increasing purses at golf tournaments. He's also arguably the best ever at what he does; that helps, as well.
But he needs the media as much as they need him. Who will chronicle his greatness otherwise? Who will write of his biggest victories, or his infrequent defeats? Who will give the public what it so obviously wants?
Call it symbiotic. Call it mutually beneficial. But also call it this:necessary, in a world increasingly driven by celebrity "news," in which we don't just want to know how many women Woods slept with, but we DEMAND to know -- and the kinkier the details, the better. Woods can apologize to his wife in private all the live-long day (and, one assumes, has), but until he does it publicly, with the cameras rolling, it doesn't count. Not now. Not in a media-saturated culture that expects public acknowledgment of these sorts of things, and considers it odder when that doesn't happen than when it does.
Please, Woods pleaded, don't follow my wife and children around. They did nothing to deserve this. And he is absolutely correct. But the unstated truth on both sides was this: Woods himself is fair game, and will be followed constantly, until the media and the people who consume it have had their fill. He was taking one for the team, you might say, by appearing in front of the media. He got what he needed, and gave the media what it needed, as well.