Tiger Woods television interviews leave questions unasked, unanswered

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Tiger Woods speaks with ESPN about the sex scandal, his rehab and his return to golf.

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By Leonard Shapiro
Monday, March 22, 2010; 1:45 PM

So many questions, and still so few answers.

A day later, that was the lingering impression after watching Tiger Woods, as always still in total control mode, made himself available to ESPN and the Golf Channel for a pair of five-minute interviews that were embargoed until 7:30 p.m. Sunday and aired simultaneously.

ESPN's Tom Rinaldi and the Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman drew the assignments for their respective networks, and each managed to ask 21 almost breathless, rat-a-tat questions of the world's No. 1 golfer (and reigning philanderer of the year) about the events that have transpired since the Nov. 27 car crash outside his home in Orlando.

CBS Sports, which televises the Masters, his first event since the accident, also was offered a five-minute shot with Woods, but chose not to accept, citing the five-minute limit as being unacceptable. All three outlets were contacted by the Woods camp late in the day on Friday and the interviews conducted Sunday afternoon at the Isleworth Country Club near his home.

The 7:30 p.m. embargo was set ostensibly to avoid any conflict with the final round of the Transitions tournament on the PGA Tour. Those plans went awry when rain delays earlier in the day pushed back the finishing time, and both interviews aired at the same time Jim Furyk, one of Woods's best friends on the tour, was scrambling to secure his first victory in three years.

The Golf Channel's choice of Tilghman to conduct its interview was questionable, at best. In January 2008, she nearly lost her job as the first female shot-by-shot golf announcer. Following an on-air joke by partner Nick Faldo that young players on the tour ought to "gang up" on Woods trying to catch him, she added, clearly in jest, or "lynch him in a back alley." That comment, at the 2008 season-opening Mercedes in Hawaii, created a firestorm of controversy and resulted in her two-week suspension.

At the time, Tilghman called Woods, who she described as a good friend, and apologized for her comment, and Woods said he was satisfied with that response. According to the Golf Channel's website biography of Tilghman, she has since appeared as a play-by-place voice on Woods's highly popular video games, Tiger Woods PGA Tour '09 and '10, produced by EA Sports, one of his main sponsors.

Journalism 101 tells you that friends really should not be interviewing friends, or that broadcasters performing as journalists should not be handling interviews with people with whom they have a business relationship. Then again, the Golf Channel's journalistic standards often have been laughable, and while Tilghman did ask some of the obvious semi-tough questions, another choice of interviewers -- perhaps Jim Gray or Scott Walker, among others on the network's roster -- would have been far more appropriate.

Dan Higgins, a Golf Channel spokesman, said Woods had no say in who would conduct the interview, and that the Golf Channel, which followed the ESPN session, had pressed for more time for the interview, to no avail.

"It was our choice," he said of Tilghman conducting the interview. "The fact that she's been dealing with him for 15 years was a factor. There certainly was a comfort factor involved in the decision."

To her credit, Tilghman did provide about the only real news of the day. After the interview aired, she said that Ari Fleisher, former White House press secretary under President George W. Bush whose public relations firm had been retained by Woods, was no longer advising the player. His presence, she said, had become too much of a story in its own right.

Rinaldi, a long-time on-air reporter at CNN and ESPN, had no conflicts of interest. When interviewed after the session on SportsCenter about whether he thought Woods had been sincere, he chose not to go there, saying he would prefer to let viewers make that judgment for themselves. Good for him.


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