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The media frenzy around the Tiger Woods scandal isn't always about the facts
While it seems plausible that one of the world's richest athletes might have a prenup, it's curious that so much detail seems to be known about it now. That was not the case in 2004, when Woods and Nordegren married. At the time, only a few media outlets mentioned that a prenuptial agreement might exist. In the years since, Woods's alleged marriage contract was referenced in a media story just once, and only in passing, according to the Nexis news database.
There's more: Is Tiger going on "Oprah," as Britain's Telegraph reported; did Woods really say he intended to buy his wife an expensive ring as a conciliatory present, as TMZ reported; is the couple leaving the country and moving to Sweden, as Foxnews.com reported?
The Woods story follows a pattern of celebrity scandal coverage in recent years, says Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
As the deaths of Anna Nicole Smith and Michael Jackson illustrated, speculation, facts and gossip all become so conflated and widespread on the Web that the mainstream media can no longer ignore the rumors. "The mainstream media doesn't want to be first on these stories," he says. "They'd prefer to let the supermarket press break these things, so they can remain at arm's length."
But the mis-reporting of the Woods story suggests that once the National Enquirer or TMZ serves up the raw details of the story, the mainstream media can't always be relied on to separate fact from fiction.
"Journalists used to be gatekeepers," says Brooks Jackson, a former journalist who is the director of Factcheck.org, a nonprofit group that monitors the accuracy of political figures. "Tips and rumors and leads would be checked out before they got on the air or in print. But when you have the Internet and Drudge [Report] and your crazy aunt Harriet sending you e-mails about every rumor, it's hard for journalists to keep the fences and the gates up. . . . Unsubstantiated rumors wind up reported as fact."
None of this is to say that Woods's personal life isn't a shambles, or that he doesn't have some personal issues to contend with. But it is to say we don't know exactly what they are.