There has been countless commentary concerning The Confession from Tiger Woods. Among the many points that have been endlessly debated and analyzed ad infinitum - was Tiger really sorry? (I thought so) Was he sincere? (He did a good enough job of half-convincing me of that). Was he just trying to appease Nike and his other corporate meal tickets? (No question) Will we see him at Augusta or Pebble Beach or St. Andrews in 2010 (I'd be shocked if he didn't compete in one of them).
The story is by now quite dull. There's little we don't know now regarding Woods' sizeable collection of peccadilloes and we've heard enough from the relentless parade of psychologists, counselors and other celebrity-obsessed pundits who can bewilderingly and arrogantly attach gravitas to such commentary.
But the one question that the vast majority of the fourth estate has not examined with the same rigorous scrutiny is thus: does this story merit as much attention as we have given it? Or, more simply, why should we care? I mean, doesn't anyone out there working in the mainstream media deem it embarrassing that the world stopped for 13 and ½ minutes on Friday so we could all watch a man who hits a small ball across manicured lawns for a living own up to the fact that he has a compulsion when it comes to fooling around with women that aren't his wife?
Now of course there will be an immediate reply from many that yes, this is news. How can one avoid covering the sordid details of dalliance from the world's most recognizable athlete? And after all Tiger brought this on himself, so it's not like we were seeking to find the most lascivious stories and attach newsworthy status to them.
And there are those who will attempt - in pathetic vain I may add - to attach great and historic humanistic importance to the Tiger Tale. That this is a lyrical, metaphorical and useful way of displaying how rapid a fall can occur to us mortals. This is our literature, right? These are our gods to build up and knock down. For God's sakes, don't you see that it serves as an instructional tool, a way to teach our children?
Some of this may indeed be obscenely true only because we've allowed the barrier between public responsibility and roles and private habits to be forever blurred and we accept the bizarre and downright wrong notion that everything is fair game when it comes to news today.
How did we get to this point where priorities are so askew that no one seems to recognize just how out of whack they are? It's impossible to pinpoint exactly when the media seemed to willingly traverse this slippery slope of celebrity-hype journalism that is now the standard fare for news. It certainly hasn't gotten any better with the internet allowing every wannabe writer, critic, commentator and instigator to get their views aired.
A cry one often hears when challenging conventional mores is that "things have always been this way" and nothing - especially human nature - really changes. Well, I'll take issue with that. While I won't speak to prior generations and centuries I do know there's been a marked, tangible shift in the way priorities are ascribed in the press and accepted, more or less, as valid by the public, during my short time in this world.
When I was a very small boy, there was another famous moment when everyone was glued to their TV sets to watch a statement read from a disgraced public figure whose indiscretions would have ramifications for some time. The difference between this person and Woods? He happened to be Richard Nixon, President of the United States, and his misdeeds carried true importance as he had violated our most scared national trust, the Constitution. It remains an indelible image from my memories as a six year old.
This struck me as I was thinking about how disproportionate things are today. Young kids today will remember this Tiger Woods moment and equate it with other more serious news events. In the same fashion that those a decade younger will have the spectacle of the Clinton impeachment charade masquerading as true crime (and go a decade back before that and there's Gary Hart ending his political ambitions because of alleged affairs that caused many babbling heads to blabber that sexual indiscretion equals instability in all phases of one character. I don't know, maybe these examples prove that it all has to do with our bizarre and hypocritical treatment of sex in public discourse?).
What can be done to realign priorities and heighten public debate across all phases of our culture? Why not take a cue from the current financial crisis. There is now a greater call, especially from seasoned, non-partisan pros like Paul Volcker, to reinstitute rigorous financial regulation in order to right the balance in our banking system and secure our economic tethers. Maybe something is needed in press coverage?
How about the networks and major newspaper and internet news outlets - sports and otherwise - get together and establish a new gentleman's agreement or "declaration of standards" of some sort (I obviously wouldn't hold my breath for the New York Post or Fox News to go along). Maybe vow not to conflate a celebrity with a real news figure for starters. One can always hope.
Too often those in the press are willing to ignore a story of true importance as they're often taken along for a thrilling ride - whether it be their lack of initiative in pursing the steroid story when drugs were seen in McGwire's locker during that homerun summer of 1998 when all anyone wanted to talk about was Maris' record or the fawning, unquestioning cheering by many in the media during the first stages of the Iraq War.
But at the same time, quick judgments and passionately worded missives will be scrolled rapid-fire when an easy story such as the Woods matter comes along. I mean, how hard is it to offer up any insight or thoughts on something so simple as a man cheating on a woman? So many who have the privilege of offering up their views for a living are too willing to inject themselves into a story and turn what is supposed to be objective, intelligent criticism into a self-publicizing rant. Perhaps all reporters and commentators should adopt the immortal and wise words of Teddy Roosevelt in taking on a more humble tone:
"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done. Criticism is necessary and useful; it is often indispensable; but it can never take the place of action, or be even a poor substitute for it. The function of the mere critic is of very subordinate usefulness. It is the doer of deeds who actually counts in the battle for life, and not the man who looks on and says how the fight ought to be fought, without himself sharing the stress and the danger."