LONGSHOTS: Tiger’s tail between his legs amid vast public attention
by Dave Long
The first time I remember the network’s breaking into a TV broadcast was for a bulletin from CBS News to tell us we were on the brink of nuclear war with Russia. News of the Cuban Missile Crisis sent chills up my spine and the tense time over the next two weeks put fear into everyone as the networks repeatedly broke into regular coverage before it finally dissipated to the collective relief of the country and world.
The next news bulletin I heard like that was in a radio program my fourth-grade class was listening to on a Friday afternoon. It came from Dallas, Texas, with news that shots had been fired at President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade. Another came a short time later saying he’d been wounded and a third one, this time at home after being dismissed early, was Walter Cronkite saying JFK was dead. Those incidents made an impression on me that lasted for over 30 years — where, even though they were never as dramatic again, any time the networks broke into a show for a news bulletin my blood automatically ran cold as I expected I was about to learn terrible news.
Thus I had a little different perspective than many as everyone besides the Food Channel broke into regular programming last Friday to cover the mea culpa of a guy for serial cheating on his wife. I’m not saying the comments of Tiger Woods at his tightly controlled media event were not of interest to a vast number of people throughout the country. But let me see if I can weigh the real news value of all this — ah, nuclear war or the confession of a cheater? Ah, a presidential assassination or a cheater’s apology to people he doesn’t know? Hmmmmmm — which is more newsworthy?
Life sure is different these days, which I guess is a good thing when it comes to what the networks now consider “news” worthy enough to interrupt regular programming. First, it no longer sends those chills down my spine. And they’ve now gone past tragedy — all the way to breaking in for comedy!
I don’t mean to say the Woods saga is a not a tragedy to those directly involved. Any time a family dissolves or goes through the turmoil that could lead to its demise is an awful thing. Trust me, I’ve been through it and it is awful. But to see it unfold on TV — where the guy behind it has to come to an entire country and apologize for his actions — seems surreal.
So that makes the Tiger thing as complicated as it is simple. And it also says something about the gawkers who feel they’re somehow owed an apology from a guy they know only as a two-dimensional figure on TV. Especially since a percentage of those folks have cheated themselves. Yes, I get the backlash for treating his wife Elin as terribly as he has. It’s deserved and he brought on all himself — which to his credit he acknowledged.
I can see why it might lead the news at night or be carried live by all the sports media and the Fox Business Channel. Tawdriness aside, Tiger’s stunning fall from grace is a legitimately GIGANTIC business story in the golf industry. If he can’t recapture some semblance of his past magic it affects TV ratings and thus the rights fees to the PGA, ticket sales, sponsorships, the prizes won by the players, the stock price of Nike Golf and the networks that carry golf just to name a few. But, even if he was as spectacular at cheating as he is on the golf course, breaking into a national TV program for a domestic dispute from a golfer seems nuts to me.
It’s simple because his behavior was, and there’s no other way to say it, abominable. Thus it earned all the scorn sent his way. But while the newspaper business is teetering these days and needs all the sensational help it can get, does it seem odd to you his record 20 straight days on the front page of Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post pushed the aftermath of 9-11 to number two on the Post’s all-time list? Especially since it happened in the Post’s front yard and the misery, heartache and financial implications went on a lot longer than three stinking weeks.
It’s complicated because his national popularity is at stake, at least as far as it extends to his business interests. In the beginning, when he got the worst PR advice since Bill Clinton “did not have sex with that woman,” his attitude was to tell all to shove it. It’s my private life and none of your business. And he’s right. But as Martin Sheen’s Chief of Staff told President Michael Douglas in American President when he was going to ask Sydney Ellen Wade out on a date, “the American public has a funny way of deciding what is and is not their business.” And since they are the buyers and viewers that means trouble if they are ticked off.
The media’s attention of course amps up the whole thing exponentially. Not saying it’s their fault really, as they do reflect people’s interests, prurient or not — but I can guarantee you the story would have been covered a lot differently in just the ’70s. You can only wonder how the wife/family-swapping story of Yankees pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich in the spring of 1973 would have been covered today. It caused a hullabaloo, but there was also a lot of “wacky” lefty talk as well. How about Wade Boggs living with paramour Margo Adams while the Sox were on the road and his wife stayed home with the kid? Then there’s the Babe, who — Dan Shaughnessy pointed out in a fabulous column in Saturday’s Globe — was covered as a lovable oaf, despite Tiger-like appetites and his own middle-of-the-night crash into a trolley car in the wee hours while bombed and with women besides his wife.
Finally, it’s a comedy because of the astonishing grandeur of it, the endless stream of jokes and because some of his mistresses or their lawyers actually say they deserve an apology. Imagine a bloodsucking lawyer trying to get publicity or financial gain from this sordid mess. I know — shocking. Hey, while feelings at the end of a relationship can sometimes complicate things, generally speaking if you’re willing to insert yourself into the life of someone you know to be married and are willing to see his kids go without their father to benefit you, that makes you a creep who got exactly what you deserve whether he was lying to you or not. Just because he’s a creep doesn’t mean you’re not one too.
In the end, though, Tiger’s spectacular fall aside, I mostly see the entire fiasco as a remarkable statement as to how life has evolved during my lifetime.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.