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Not out of the Woods

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009 9:43 AM

All those who said Tiger should keep his head down and his lips zipped and the tabloid circus would quiet down, raise your hands.

You hit it into the rough.

That was never, ever going to work.

If this was just a matter of a spat with his wife and the damage to his Cadillac Escalade, maybe he could have gone the strong-and-silent route.

But come on: from the moment he rammed into that tree, Tiger has acted like he's got something to hide.

There's a reason that generations of PR professionals have advised all manner of miscreants to get the bad news out early and put the embarrassment behind you. If you're a big-deal public figure, it's going to come out anyway, especially in this age of blogs and gossip sites, of voice mail and texting.

So you get what Tiger's got right now: an image as a stonewaller, followed by an apology for unspecified "transgressions." Worst of both worlds. A bigger handicap.

Tiger's led a charmed life until now. Everyone, including me, thought he was not just an exceptional athlete but a good guy. He kept the press at bay, and hardly anything critical was written or said about him. He got to reap the benefits of worldwide publicity, the zillions in endorsements, without revealing much of himself.

Turns out that Rachel Uchitel, the party girl named by the National Enquirer, wasn't Tiger's biggest problem. No, Tiger's weak spot turned out to be L.A. cocktail waitress Jaimee Grubbs (where do they get these names?). She had the incriminating voice mails. Worse, she gave them to Us Weekly (which denied paying $150K for an interview but won't say it paid her nothing). By now, you've probably heard one of them on every TV and radio show this side of Dora the Explorer:

Hey, it's, uh, it's Tiger. I need you to do me a huge favor. Um, can you please, uh, take your name off your phone. My wife went through my phone. And, uh, may be calling you. If you can, please take your name off that and, um, and what do you call it just have it as a number on the voice mail, just have it as your telephone number. That's it, OK. You gotta do this for me. Huge. Quickly.

That led to the Woods statement that "I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect."

Can an Oprah appearance be far behind?

There also was this shot at the press: "I have been dismayed to realize the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny means. For the last week, my family and I have been hounded to expose intimate details of our personal lives." Fair enough, but Tiger whet the media's appetite by saying nothing.

So now there's a full-fledged feeding frenzy, and even the serious news programs have shifted into how-badly-has-Tiger's-career-been-damaged mode.

And you have this: "Co-workers tell TMZ on Friday -- the day of Tiger's crash -- Jaimee went to work, played the voicemail to co-workers and then later in the evening said she had received a call from a blocked number. Jaimee says she answered and asked who was on the line. Jaimee says the caller -- a woman -- did not identify herself but said, 'You know who this is because you're [blanking] my husband.' "

And this: "The first Tiger Girl aka Rachel Uchitel whom the Enquirer first revealed to the world as being romantically linked to Tiger Woods is now admitting to the affair after vociferously denying it. The NY party girl's lawyer Gloria Allred has scheduled a press conference for Thursday."

And this: "A second mistress also named yesterday was Kalika Moquin, a Vegas club manager at The Bank, according to Life & Style magazine.

"The magazine, quoting a pal of Moquin's, said her friend explained to her that Woods 'wasn't happy in his marriage or his home life and that there was just so much pressure on him.' "

And this, from Bill Zwecker in the Chicago Sun-Times:

"The links legend's spouse is reportedly being paid a hefty seven-figure amount -- immediately transfered into an account she alone controls -- to stick with her husband.

"On top of that, my source indicated Elin Nordegren Woods, the mother of Tiger's two children, has demanded -- and is getting -- a total rewrite on the couple's prenuptial agreement making the incentives for her to remain Mrs. Tiger Woods even more enticing."

Shades of Mrs. Kobe Bryant.

"The Woodses have already begun intense marriage counseling -- at their home -- with a counselor who has been conducting sessions several times daily."

And this: "A Swedish golfer who once employed Tiger Woods' wife -- Elin Nordegren -- and even introduced her to Tiger, just blasted him after a round today, saying he hopes Elin uses a driver next time instead of a 3-iron."

Jesper Parnevik "says Tiger may have taken his Nike credo too far and that next time, 'Maybe not just do it.' "

In light of these developments--and who knows what's coming next--this advice from Eric Dezenhall isn't looking so hot:

"Reporters, pundits, and PR flacks are diving in front of cameras to peddle hackneyed chestnuts about how Tiger Woods would be well-served by a press conference where he "fesses up" to his automotive and marital shortcomings.

"They are all wrong.

"Contrary to conventional wisdom, Tiger is not a public figure; he is an icon, and icons are known equally for what they don't do as what they do do. Paul Newman didn't marry and divorce a series of ingénues. Warren Buffett doesn't live in a mansion. Jacqueline Onassis didn't talk about what it was like to watch her husband murdered in the back seat of a Lincoln convertible.

"Tiger, the icon, doesn't lose his cool. Icon Tiger doesn't get photographed with self-promoting gummi-tarts. And Icon Tiger doesn't line-item air his dirty laundry in front of millions of people just because they want to hear about it.

"In this way, Tiger is like another icon, Steve Jobs. To the rabid fury of the press and public-relations priesthood, Jobs consistently violates every rule of damage-control doctrine -- he's arrogant, secretive, slippery, uncuddly. . . . and comes out on top after media storms."

Did the sports press look the other way all these years? Charles Pierce, who profiled Woods a dozen years ago, says in Esquire:

"I can't say I'm surprised -- either by the allegations or by what's ensued since Friday's wreck. Back in 1997, one of the worst-kept secrets on the PGA Tour was that Tiger was something of a hound. Everybody knew. Everybody had a story. Occasionally somebody saw it, but nobody wanted to talk about it, except in bar-room whispers late at night. Tiger's People at the International Management Group visibly got the vapors if you even implied anything about it.

"However, from that moment on, the marketing cocoon around him became almost impenetrable. The Tiger Woods that was constructed for corporate consumption was spotless and smooth, an edgeless brand easily peddled to sheikhs and shakers. The perfect marriage with the perfect kids slipped so easily into the narrative it seemed he'd been born married."

Slate's Jack Shafer reaches a similar conclusion -- and blames us in the process:

"In the past, Bo Belinsky, Joe Namath, and Wilt Chamberlain -- just to name a few Don Juans from field and court -- made womanizing an integral part of their personas. But for business reasons -- Buick, Nike, Gatorade, Gillette, EA Sports, and Accenture being among them -- Woods decided to exfoliate from his public image of all things base, carnal, and even personal . . . "Given how desperately we want to believe in a human god, it didn't take much peddling from Team Tiger for us to accept Woods as a modern deity. . . .

"Getting married and having children only added to Woods' marketability. I'm divine and monogamous and the center of a happy nuclear family. And we ate it up.

"So now that the 'real' Woods has been revealed as a wild bone-daddy who behaves more like your out-of-work, alcoholic brother-in-law than an object of worship, we feel cheated."

Newspaper in trouble

The Washington Times is drastically downsizing and cutting 40 percent of its staff, as I report here.

War over the war

A mixed reaction to the Obama plan on the right, as we see in this David Frum post:

"Having urged the president to honor his commitment to the Afghan war, we Republicans must honor our commitment to support him as he fights it. Given the public unenthusiasm for the conflict, there will be political temptations to "go rogue" on the president, if not now, then in the summer of 2010. That will be our test, for us to pass as the president has passed his. I know many Republicans and conservatives will say: 'Hey -- the Democrats did not give President Bush support when he most needed it.' Correct. They didn't. And the country suffered for it. The right way to react to that dereliction of duty is not by emulating it, but by repudiating it. 'For it before I was against it' has deservedly become an epithet for shameful wavering. Let's not inflict it upon ourselves."

The left isn't thrilled either. Here's Michael Crowley in the New Republic:

"Even in March, Obama was employing a variation of George Bush's old "as they stand up, we'll stand down" formulation -- except he didn't mention specific dates at the time. Tonight's date-specific language sounds like a sop to voters and members of Congress fed up with the war and understandably convinced that we have no clear exit strategy. But the pledge is a largely empty one: In a conference call, White House officials made it amply clear that the extent and pace of any drawdown would be based on conditions on the ground. Theoretically, Obama's promise tonight could entail withdrawing 100 troops in July 2011 and pulling out the rest ten years later. Much as the White House wants to deny it, what we've got here is an open-ended commitment.

"That will make for rough sledding ahead in Congress. Liberal Democrats like Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold are already hinting at plans to impose timelines on upcoming war funding bills."

The president had a luncheon Tuesday for Tom Friedman and various other pundits. Atlantic's Marc Ambinder was there:

"President Obama said he is 'painfully clear' that his revised Afghanistan strategy is 'politically unpopular' -- especially within his own party -- and that he expects to be held 'fully accountable' if the strategy fails.

"Obama, speaking with a group of columnists and reporters at a White House lunch, conceded that Americans 'are right to be concerned' about the additional expense of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. 'But that's not how I make decisions. If I were basing my decisions on polls, then the banking system might have collapsed and you probably wouldn't have GM or Chrysler, and it's not clear that the economy would be growing again.'. . . .

"If it doesn't work, said Obama: 'I think there is going to be enormous interest on the part of the American people and on the part of Congress in keeping me to my word that this is not a constant escalation.' "

That, Mr. President, is an understatement.

Some words of praise for his predecessor, from James Fallows:

"Since the results of the 2008 election became clear, the 43rd President of the United States has behaved in a way that brings honor to him, his family, his office, and his country. By all reports he did what he could to smooth the transition to his successor, including dealing with the house-is-burning-down world financial crisis. Since leaving office he has -- like most of his predecessors in their first years out of power -- maintained a dignified distance from public controversies and let the new team have its chance. He has acted as if aware that there are national interests larger than his own possible interests in score-settling or reputational-repair.

"The former vice president, Dick Cheney, has brought dishonor to himself, his office, and his country. I am not aware of another former President or Vice President behaving as despicably as Cheney has done in the ten months since leaving power, most recently but not exclusively with his comments to Politico about Obama's decisions on Afghanistan. (Aaron Burr might win the title, for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, but Burr was a sitting Vice President at the time.) Cheney has acted as if utterly unconcerned with the welfare of his country, its armed forces, or the people now trying to make difficult decisions. He has put narrow score-settling interest far, far above national interest."

I guess he's not on the Cheney-in-2012 bandwagon.

And the L.A. Times finds this voice from the past complaining about a "bald misstatement" by Obama:

"Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld took exception Wednesday to President Obama's assertion that the Bush administration rebuffed commanders' repeated requests for more troops in Afghanistan. Rumsfeld, who oversaw the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, said he was unaware of "a single request of that nature between 2001 and 2006," while he served under President George W. Bush.

Matthews misspoke

Chris Matthews has retracted his bizarre statement that the president, in speaking at West Point, was visiting an "enemy camp":

"I used the wrong words, and worse than that I said something that is just not right, for that I deeply apologize."

Partygate

Presidents and Congress have fought titanic battles over the years about executive privilege. Nixon invoked it during Watergate. Clinton invoked it during his impeachment. And now:

"The White House on Wednesday invoked the separation of powers to keep Desiree Rogers, President Obama's social secretary, from testifying on Capitol Hill about how a couple of aspiring reality television show celebrities crashed a state dinner for the prime minister of India last week."

Howard Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."

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