THE BLOG

The Gossip Media Scored Big With Tiger Woods

04/10/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

On Saturday (Feb. 6), radaronline was first to report that Tiger Woods left a rehab clinic in Mississippi. The "World Exclusive" reported that Tiger immediately joined his wife, Elin Nordegren. Tiger and Elin reportedly are celebrating the first birthday of their son, Charlie, today (Feb. 8) at their home in Windemere, Florida. Joining the celebration is their daughter, Sam. Leading the media pack are the paparazzi who work for the gossip media.

The gossip mill currently is one of the world's most flourishing industries. The top "products" are Tiger Woods and John Edwards. Credit must be given to radaronline and the National Enquirer, both owned by the same company, and other gossip media.

On November 25, two days before Tiger's car crash, the National Enquirer published an item about his extramarital sex life. It was this item that triggered the fury of his wife. Immediately after the car crash, the gossip media jumped on the story. Steamy revelations about Tiger's love life appeared in TMZ, Radaronline, Access Hollywood online, tabloid newspapers in New York and London, and other gossip media, with immediate pickup on cable TV and then in all print and broadcast media.

In November and December, the New York Post had Tiger Woods on page one for 20 consecutive days, a day more than its coverage of the 9/11 attacks. Each new woman who emerged from the Woodswork was trumpeted. Last week, the Post's Page Six reported that Mark Seal is in Palm Beach working on a major article about Tiger for Vanity Fair. His last article in VF was about Bernie Madoff.

On January 28, the Post reported details of Tiger's prowess in bed, as discussed by call girl Loredanda Jolie. She said that Tiger would go through the night, including role-playing of his sexual fantasies. He paid $30,000 to $40,000 (in cash) for a weekend with several girls. She called Tiger a freak in bed who will not be cured by rehab. She is asking $1 million for a tell-all book about Tiger and other celebrity clients.

The most scoops about Tiger Woods have been in the National Enquirer and radaronline, both owned by American Media, Inc. (AMI). On January 22, radaronline and the Enquirer published a photo of Tiger at the Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services facility in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. On December 30, he started in the Gentle Path program for sex addicts. The standard fee is $6200 /week, which is less than the fees charged by some of the rehab centers in Malibu. He is not permitted sex or golf. It's hard to know which he misses the most.

The Enquirer had a significant earlier involvement with Tiger Woods. AMI owns several magazines, including Men's Fitness. The August 2007 cover article (12 pages, 3500 words) of Men's Fitness was an exclusive interview of Tiger Woods. Golf Digest was furious because Tiger was a contributing editor and the magazine contributed close to $1 million annually to the Tiger Woods Foundation. The explanation was that AMI got the interview by agreeing to quash an article (with photos) in the National Enquirer about Tiger and his mistress (Mindy Lawton, a waitress at a diner near Tiger's home in Florida). AMI denies the quid pro quo but, according to The Wall Street Journal, AMI signed an agreement prepared by Tiger's law firm.

Ironically, the January 2010 issue of Golf Digest, which went to press before the infamous November 27 car crash, featured a cover article, "10 Tips Obama Can Take From Tiger." The "composed" cover photo shows Woods standing over a crouched Obama. Golf Digest has suspended Tiger's instructional column.

The print and broadcast sports media have been negligent in their adulatory coverage of Tiger Woods. Initially many sports commentators bemoaned the sordid invasion of his privacy and wistfully claimed that Tiger is just like the rest of us. A notable exception was Deadspin, the sports blog.

Sports reporters dwell on achievements and usually ignore the sexcapades of athletes, which are "par for the course." Gambling, bribery and use of steroids and illegal drugs are more consequential and therefore newsworthy. Gossip about coaches being fired or hired abounds.

The imminent launch of TMZSports.com (prompted in part by the tremendously increased traffic on TMZ of its Tiger Woods coverage) will encourage the mainstream sports media to delve more into romances, partying and illicit activities of athletes.

The primary topics in the gossip media are sex, wealth and health. The sports media report salaries and injuries or other aspects of health but not sex. The extramarital sex of Magic Johnson was off-limits prior to his announcement that he was HIV-positive. In his 1991 memoir, "A View from Above," Wilt Chamberlain claimed that he had sex with 20,000 women, which may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but he wasn't married, so he was exempt from criticism in the sports media.

Negative publicity about Michael Jordan, the all-time greatest basketball player, appeared after his retirement. In 2006, his divorce settlement included a payment of $168 million to his wife. A DNA test indicated that he was not the father of the child of his former alleged lover and the court determined that he did not owe her any money.

Perhaps one impact of the Tiger Woods saga will be to change the hero-worshiping sports media. The gossip media was first with revelations about Tiger's lovelife. The Us Weekly website had Tiger's voicemail to Jaimee Grubbs pleading to take her name off her phone in case his wife called the number. Photos and details about other women were scoops in TMZ, the New York Post, and London's News of the World and The Sun.

In a November 30 article in The Nation, Dave Zirin criticized Tiger Woods for designing a golf course in Dubai and being associated with Chevron ("dropping toxic all over the planet").Who knew that The Nation has a sports editor!

Radaronline and London's Daily Mail (December 19) reported that Jaime Jungers (a blonde, beautiful cocktail waitress in Las Vegas) took photos of a naked Tiger, for use if they ever broke up. They allegedly had a two-year affair in Las Vegas and Florida.

Public relations consultants recommend that celebrities participate in humanitarian activities. Outstanding examples include Ben Affleck, Bono, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie and Bon Jovi. Their active participation has been genuine and will serve as a buffer if they incur major negative personal publicity. It depends on how negative the publicity is. Example: O.J. Simpson.
The Tiger Woods Foundation has conducted golf clinics and classes (in math, science and the arts) for disadvantaged children. Very few media people have cited these achievements in defense of Tiger. The Foundation newsletter has not commented on Tiger's current activities.

On January 15, Us magazine and New York's Daily News reported that Tiger was donating $3 million for Haitian relief. But it didn't happen.

Tiger's father, Edward Woods, once proudly declared that his son could have a greater influence than Mandela or Gandhi. More than 14 women have been identified among the bevy of beauties who have been Tiger's harem of hotties, to use tabloid alliterative lingo.

Us reported that Tiger's wife had been staying nearby, at the 460-acre estate of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre.

Almost everyone has a lust for juicy gossip. We gossip about people we know and celebrities (people we think we know). All of us, including the media were duped by Tiger. We did not really know him.
Gossip gleaned from the media enables us to root for or criticize celebrities. A greater amount of gossip is personal - face-to-face, on the phone or computer. Gossip promotes friendship and group cohesion, and conveys personal information in a surprisingly accurate, effective and enjoyable way. It's hard to resist gossip.

What exactly is gossip? It is simply a conversation, spoken or written, about the private lives of other people. Gossip invariably is about a person who was not present and often is judgmental. Learning about the extremes of behavior helps us to understand our own abilities, shortcomings and problems, and sets parameters for our behavior. However, it's not likely that the Tiger Woods saga will reduce extramarital activities.

Tiger Woods will return to golfing -- soon. It's hard to predict if and when sponsors will return. It's possible that his wife will not divorce him. One thing for sure is that on the golf course, Tiger will not swear, throw clubs or behave rudely.

And Eldrick Tant Woods will be able to continue to use his renowned nickname. As for the many scoops of the National Enquirer about John Edwards, that's another story.

Richard Weiner, a public relations consultant, is writing a book about gossip. His 23 books include "Webster's New World Dictionary of Media and Communications."