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Ruth Marcus on how Tiger Woods and the Salahis are using the media

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Ruth Marcus
Washington Post Columnist
Wednesday, December 2, 2009; 1:00 PM

Washington Post opinion columnist Ruth Marcus discusses her column about how Tiger Woods and the Salahis have engaged with the media while at the center of unflattering news stories.

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Ruth Marcus: Hi everyone. Haven't chatted for a while so happy to be back.

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Richmond, Va.: You write "Woods is the converse of the loathsome White House party-crashers."

Do you think Tiger's wife feels the same way?

Ruth Marcus: Well, perhaps loathsome might be one of the milder adjectives she is using. But I think there is, and remains even after this morning's statement, a difference between people behaving badly in private (Tiger) and people behaving badly in public, or to be in the public eye (Salahis.)

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Falls Church, Va.: You're completely missing the point of the Tiger Woods episode, which is that he is very likely the victim of domestic abuse. There wasn't blood on the steering wheel -- he had the facial injuries before he got in the car.

If it had been Elin fleeing in the car with a busted face while Tiger chased her with a golf club and smashed her window, you wouldn't be musing about privacy and celebrity. You'd be worrying about her safety and demanding that the police investigate. I think you need to do some soul-searching and figure out why you're not bothered by domestic violence as long as it's the man who's getting hit in the mouth.

Ruth Marcus: I don't have to search my soul, not on that one anyway. If there was domestic abuse, or evidence of domestic abuse, the police can and should and I think under Florida law are obliged to investigate. They gave him a $164 ticket and closed the case.

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Fort Myers, Fla.: I certainly agree that we need to be spared public confession in the Tiger Woods case. My question is, if Joe Schmoe had the same accident, would he be allowed to cancel appointments with the police and refuse to answer questions?

Ruth Marcus: Fair question, and while I haven't spent a lot of time researching this issue, my sense is that he was not under a legal obligation to talk to them.

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Philadelphia, PA : I'm in full agreement with 99% of what you said, including the idea that our future is on the line with this. He's taking an important stand for privacy.

All that said, I do think Tiger vs Letterman is an interesting contrast. Not Letterman's public confession so much but his no-bones-about-it public image -- yeah, he's kinda a dirty ol' man but he makes us laugh anyway, right?

Today's statement from Tiger comes across as either disingenuous or self-deluded. You don't go from carrying on multiple affairs simultaneously to instant reform. Maybe he does have a sense of entitlement, maybe he is a jerk, maybe (!!) he's not a devoted husband...that's who he is.

The lesson here (if he wants to take it) is about humility, expectations setting, and authenticity. Now that we all know that he's not "perfect" (whatever that is), he can re-determine who he wants to be. His wife can decide if that's suitable to her or not. And the public will move on to other things. But hopefully he does all this in the privacy of his own home, without telling us.

Ruth Marcus: Well, I don't know what he did, and as I said, I don't really want to. (I have to confess I did read some of those steamy e-mails, though.) But I thought this sentence from his statement was pretty powerful: Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions

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Birmingham, Ala.: Ruth,

So Tiger is refreshing to you? This dirt-bag is carrying on at least 2 affairs while married, and this is "good" in comparison to the "party crashers"? Let's see....one is using poor taste and the other committing adultery. I see now. William

Ruth Marcus: Adultery is an issue that is between the two parties to the marriage--what one or the other are willing, or not, to tolerate. What's refreshing to me about Tiger is his desire to maintain some semblance of privacy. The party crashers are emblematic of the opposite: no sense of limits or decency in the chase for publicity.

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New York: All valid points ....however, Tiger also created this intense public interest not just by his professional achievements, but also by his ubiquitous saintly image that is constantly being marketed. Remember that Nike ad that presented him as a civil rights pioneer??? Anything in real life that runs counter to his carefully honed image will have people buzzing.

Ruth Marcus: People can buzz all they want, and no criticism of that. Fair to hold people to account for failing to live up to their public image, however carefully honed and marketed. But let's not expect them to/demand that they tell all.

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Arlington, Va.: As someone who wanted Tiger to keep his mouth shut, are you disappointed that he admitted to the affair this morning?

Seems like he did it in hopes that it will allow him to return to being a largely private person.

Ruth Marcus: My first reaction to hearing about the statement was disappointment. Reading it, I thought most of it, beyond the admitting transgressions, was a very eloquent plea for the kind of private space that I've been talking about.

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Auburn, WA 98092: I agree with your analysis entirely!

Ruth Marcus: Hard to disagree with this comment :)

Thanks!

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Edgewater, Fl.: Not a question but thanks for your take on Tiger Woods situation.

Hope he doesn't give in to the pressure but it might not be possible.

Kudos to him for holding out as long as possible.

Thanks Ruth

Ruth Marcus: Well, the pressure has definitely ratcheted up--a lot.

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Arlington, VA: Without a doubt, one of the dumbist articles I've read in years.

Ruth Marcus: Ok, why? (Trying to stay honest here and posting the nasty comments too...)

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State College, PA: Ms. Marcus, before I read your column, I wondered why Tiger Woods wasn't more forthcoming about whatever happened. I read Sally Jenkins' column and chat, and agreed that he needed to say what had happened.

And then I read your piece and did a mental 180 on the situation. Tiger Woods is not compelled to make a statement, why should he? Too many people fill up the airwaves with confessions that we don't need to know about.

Some might argue that Tiger "owes" the public an explanation. Perhaps Tiger is returning to the classic model of behavior, one based on restraint rather than revelation.

Silence is golden.

washingtonpost.com: Sally Jenkins discusses Tiger Woods's evasive maneuvers

Ruth Marcus: Thank you very much for that message. The best compliment an opinion writer can get is to hear that someone has changed his/her mind. Funny--I was mid-column when I read Sally's on Tuesday morning and she made me stop and think for a while, too!

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New York, NY: Hi, Ms. Marcus. I usually agree with you, but not today.

I don't care whether Mr. Woods was running off to see the local cocktail waitress, sleepdriving on Ambien or just a bad driver. But I am delighted to see him taken down a notch (or 23).

For so many years, so many people have blindly equated Mr. Woods's great golf skills with being a great human being, when in fact, he's been a rather obvious hypocrite and generally spoiled and immature person from the get go.

Mr. Woods does not have any right to privacy (except perhaps for his yacht of that same name). Not any more. He sold it for, as you pointed out, $1 billion. Then he came into my living room every night hawking cars and financial products and heaven knows what else.

I like my privacy myself, and I've made a number of career choices to preserve it. It has cost me income (although frankly, if you let me sleep on it, I'd probably be willing to trade it for $1 billion).

Why do you feel that Mr. Woods alone among all humans gets to have this both ways?

Ruth Marcus: It would be a pretty boring read if you always agreed with me. But...look, he's a public figure. There are going to be people examining him and paparazzi following him, etc. I guess where I draw the line is at the expectation or demand that he must roll over (probably a bad phrase here) and cooperate with them.

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New York: Ruth, thanks for the chat. A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a radio show discussing the problem of inner city kids not 'snitching' when they've witnessed a crime. It's a big problem here in New York. When an iconic figure like Tiger Woods refuses to talk to the police in a fairly minor traffic investigation, even when it's his right to do so, I can't help thinking what kind of example this presents to those kids. Tiger is a public figure, with public responsibilities, regardless of his private problems.

Ruth Marcus: Very interesting question, and it has me kind of stumped. It does send a bad signal, I think. On the other hand, if I were Tiger's lawyer, I would probably have told him not to talk to the police either, if he didn't have to. Not necessarily because of incriminating issues but because of the inevitably public nature of the interview.

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Houston: RE: Tiger's right to not talk to the police...

We hear it all the time on every cop show, most citizens of this country have it memorized....

"You have the right to remain silent..."

Funny what happens when someone excercises that right.

Ruth Marcus: well, that's in a criminal context of self-incrimination, different situation. My understanding is the police asked to interview him, he agreed and then declined, and that was the end of it becuase it was not a criminal matter.

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Winnipeg, Canada: I lost a lot of respect for Tiger Woods (as a person, not as an athlete) early in his career when he endorsed golf balls that he did not use. He tried to weasel out of it, but as my father once said to me, a lie is not what you say; it's the impression you create.

Here was a guy making money most of us can only dream about from tournament prize money, and he decided that he needed to supplement that income with a shady endorsement. It spoke volumes to me about his honesty and his values. I have to admit that I stopped following golf closely afterwards, although obviously I was in the tiny minority.

Now we have a major misfortune in his life, and once again, the way he has handled it is much less than forthright. By any standard, he's one of the greatest athletes ever to break a sweat, and he is undeniably charming with exceptional good looks, but unfortunately none of those attributes are a guarantee of character.

Contrast this behaviour with the French soccer player, Thierry Henry, who admitted to a foul in the game-winning World Cup qualifier against Ireland, and you can see where character plays a role. Henry later supported Irish calls for a rematch.

To his credit, Woods promised to attempt to mend his ways in his press release. I hope he has the power of self-reflection to accomplish this daunting task.

Ruth Marcus: Don't know about the golf balls but posting it here to share with people.

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Arlington, Va.: Why would the public have the right to know what a public servant (say, governor) is doing 24/7? The public buys their service, not their lives. In the two cases you mention, there were facts specific to the case that gave the public the right to know (hiring prostitutes is illegal, a governor cannot conduct state business if nobody knows how to reach him). But as a general rule, should not even elected politicians be entitled to some privacy?

Ruth Marcus: Some privacy, yes. Those cases were not a close call, though, because Gov. Sanford was outrageously AWOL from his gubernatorial duties, not to mention on state business for part of his monkey business. Spitzer, as you say, illegal activity. A politician who engages in adultery other than that...we'd be pretty busy around here if we spent all our time demanding answers to those questions. I think there is a reasonable zone of privacy, absent more. For example, Gary Hart's invitation to follow me around; Bill Clinton's raising the subject preemptively before running; etc.

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Lewisville, Texas: Thinks for your clear headed article; you've expressed my sentiments about the Woods incident precisely. Now everyone can get real and get on with their lives.

Ruth Marcus: Oh, I don't know about getting on with our lives. It's looking like this is going to be around for a while.

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Falls Church, Va.: If it had been Elin with a busted lip, would you really be satisfied with the police writing a ticket and closing the case, or would you say that they were sweeping domestic abuse under the rug?

You're putting your head in the sand about the abuse here, because he's a cheater. But just because he's a philanderer doesn't mean she has the right to hit him.

Ruth Marcus: And your proof?

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Raleigh, NC: The Salahis are representative of a D.C. cuture where connections and social status outweigh accomplishments and personal merit. The dead-beat Salahis have held up a mirror showing that the beautiful people are not quite as fine as they think. Frankly, in their narcissism and shallowness, they are mostly all the same, minus two finely calligraphed invitations.

Ruth Marcus: Well said. But not just a DC culture, I'd argue.

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Baltimore MD: More than 10 years ago, the film director John Waters shared two points with me about celebrity that are apropos to Tiger Woods.

He told me, "Whenever a movie star complains to me about how terrible it is to be famous, I say to them, 'Well, what kind of business did you think you were getting into?'"

He also said that, for the famous, "Whenever you leave your house, you're at work."

I think Mr. Woods can especially appreciate that comment now.

Ruth Marcus: Nicely said

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Durham, NC: Thank you for the most sensible analysis of these two media frenzies I've read or heard. It's clear that the possibility of fame, based on no accomplishment whatsoever, drives many to insanity, child endangerment, etc. The cableization of news has lowered the quality of public inquiry and discourse so as to fill up hours of programming. The sports commentators have to chatter on about Tiger Woods because they have to fill up the time. I applaud the Woods family for stonewalling. The interest is just schadenfreude to feed a commercial beast.

Ruth Marcus: Ah, one of my favorite words: schadenfreude. I taught it to my 12-year-old daughter a few months ago and she totally got the concept!

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New Hampshire: You're right, Ruth! One of the reasons this country has such shall we say limited leadership is that we insist that saintliness in the bedroom is the criterion by which leadership should be judged. Smart is better than faithful for running countries and too bad we can't figure that out.

And I have never understood why some guy who is famous for being able to hit a ball better than the rest of us has any moral obligation to us. He's a gladiator, and, actually, he is a pioneer because prior to Tiger the golf world was pretty closed. So, great, he made a little social progress and he's entertained us. End of story. Nobody has an obligation to buy what he sells, so that's neither here nor there.

To quote Dorothy Sayers, "As I grow older and older/and totter toward the tomb/I find that I care less and less/who goes to bed with whom."

Ruth Marcus: Everyone is very erudite today. Thanks for all the great quotes.

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Santa Cruz, Bolivia: You have it exactly right. This is between Tiger and the local police, and if his $164 check doesn't bounce then that should be the end of it. VP Cheney shoots a guy in the face and did he ever -- ever -- publicly discuss that incident?? I do not think so.

Ruth Marcus: Issued a statement, I think.

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New York: 'On the other hand, if I were Tiger's lawyer, I would probably have told him not to talk to the police either, if he didn't have to. Not necessarily because of incriminating issues but because of the inevitably public nature of the interview.' Agreed. Which shows us that the legally correct thing to do isn't always the morally right thing to do.

Ruth Marcus: Indeed.

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Hamilton, Va.: You know, of course, if one of the women turns out to be 40-something it'll be a case of a Tiger and a cougar.

Ruth Marcus: Meow!! But somehow, I doubt a 40-something. And I say that as a 50-something.

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Chantilly, Va.: Don't you stop short of the best reason why Tiger Woods is being very prudent not to talk to the police. It is a crime to lie to the police; it is not a crime to lie to the public, even for a politician? Sally Jenkins makes a very strong case that the story Woods has but out is simply not believable. Woods does not want to fall into the trap that Martha Stewart and Michael Vick did by lying to the police. He couldn't very well tell the cops the truth, though, if his cover story is not true, so the best thing to do is to shut up and say no more.

The rest of us, though, are perfectly justified to conclude that righteous retribution has been meted out by his wife, though, as in the movie "Sideways."

Ruth Marcus: And adding to the erudition, now movies, too! It is potentially Sideways-esque.

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Kensington, Md: How are either of these stories relevant to any American's life, in any way? Former PM Tony Blair is facing an inquiry in the UK over having taken that country to war under false pretenses. There has been NO accountability here in the US for those who were the real instigators of that war. Is this Fred Hiatt's mechanism for distracting its readers from actual substantive developments? (You're doing a nice job of it, by the way.)

Ruth Marcus: Oh, for goodness' sake. Yes, Fred engineered the Salahis' gate-crashing, and then Tiger's crash as well. Then he managed to get 24-7 cable coverage of the same. All to make sure that people didn't...what...watch the president's speech? Which let the news and was today's lead editorial?

As to being substantive or not, it's an interesting question for a columnist, actually. I wrote last week about the constitutionality of the individual mandate, which required a rather ponderous discussion of Supreme Court rulings on the Commerce Clause. I wrote the week before about the Stupak amendment on abortion coverage. I certainly could have written something more seemingly serious this week, too, though I doubt it would have as many readers and, more to the point, I think the question of the scope of privacy in modern life is a pretty serious one. And also: a column that is always Very Serious, week in and week out, would not be one that would be fun to read, no less write.

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Cheney: He also did a softball interview on Fox. But I digress.

Ruth Marcus: Noted.

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Washington, D.C.: If he was demanding privacy in good times, fine. But, if he's demanding privacy to cover up his dirtbag habits, no way. Not after his public image made him millions.

Exposing hypocrisy is a key task of the press, and shame on the sportswriters who knew he was a creep and covered it up so they could get drunk in the hospitality tents.

Ruth Marcus: As I said, I have no golf or Tiger expertise, but seems to me as if Sally Jenkins was pretty hard on him pre-crash. So I think drunk in hospitality tents is a cheap shot.

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Atlanta: Despite his desire for privacy, Tiger Woods has built a career as a public figure embodying gentility and class (despite his on-course profanities). Many organizations have invested a substantial sum in this image and, if it is endangered by his recklessness, they have a responsibility to their shareholders to minimize the financial damage that may result. The public has a right to know what's going on for this reason alone. Every sponsored, public figure will be subject to public scrutiny of private, scandalous matters.

Ruth Marcus: Well, he can make a cost-benefit analysis of what it will cost him in terms of sponsorships...but I can't agree with the "public right to know" here.

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Silver Spring, MD: Not a question, just a comment. I wanted to say that examining every detail of some tumultuous time in the life of someone I have never met - and grandiosely arriving at some grand pronouncement as to whether he/she is a devil or an angel - is roughly the 10,496th most important agenda item in the world for me currently. Why has the Post turned into Soap Opera Digest? There are real developments going on in the world right now. Cover them, please.

Ruth Marcus: Oh, come on; see response to Kensington. Soap Opera Digest? Hardly. See today's front page. Or editorial page. Or oped page. A pretty good mixture, I'd say.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi, Ruth,

Good to see you chatting with us today.

The big difference is that the Salahis breached White House security. God forbid they wanted to harm the President and others there.

Ruth Marcus: Indeed.

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Philadelphia: Ms. Marcus,

I do understand the right to privacy, but when a person seeks public recognition he/she becomes public property -- you can't have it both ways. Celebs like the communal largess that fame brings them, yet invoke the pseudo right to shun the debt that their actions may bring, citing privacy. Hypocrisy, pure and simple! Thanks for being an upfront journalist.

Ruth Marcus: So what...we're entitled to a Tiger cam in his bedroom?

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Elin and the kids: What about them? We all know who Tiger Woods is - a golfer. Now we know he has exploited his fame to some degree by having affairs. I don't know about you but the big guys on campus when I went to college were on the football team and they seemed to think they had a right to have any woman they wanted. While working at a pizza place I was told by 2 football players that I should quit my job and take care of them (most of them were in the same fraternity which, haha, had been ordered not to have parties by the police). This wasn't professional sports but I think the sense of entitlement comes with the territory. Who cares about your wife or kids? Well, that's what Tiger pretended was important.

Ruth Marcus: I'm sure it is hard to avoid a sense of entitlement if you are as big a celebrity as Tiger Woods. As to his wife and children...not clear how they'd be helped by him detailing dirty laundry in public.

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My dad, the party-crasher!: Many years ago my father charmed his way into the hospitality suite at the World Figure Skating Championships. Probably helped that he was 79 at the time, and wearing a coat and tie as well. The ladies tried to ply him with booze, but he was a teetotaler so had to settle for a soft-drink and female company.

Ruth Marcus: Now that's gate-crashing!

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"Woods is the converse of the loathsome White House party-crashers": Does that mean they're faithful to one another?

Ruth Marcus: In terms of seeking publicity....or privacy.

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Traverse City, MI: I agree with you, Ms. Marcus. I don't care how or why Tiger Woods ended up crashing his car into a fire hydrant. He only has to provide driving and insurance information by law and, if that's all he wants to do, fine. I don't care if his foot slipped on the gas pedal causing the crash or if his wife beaned the car with a golf club. As long as he didn't do anything illegal, it's not something I care to spend time worrying about. Just because he plays a great game of golf and lots of people want to watch him do it and will pay money to see him do it, we don't own his life. If everyone tomorrow decided they didn't want to watch him play golf ever again, no one would tell us we HAD to watch. It's all a choice. If you don't think Tiger Woods has a right to his privacy, don't watch him play golf next time -- you also have that choice.

Ruth Marcus: Noted.

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Washington, DC: Ruth Marcus: Adultery is an issue that is between the two parties to the marriage--what one or the other are willing, or not, to tolerate.

What about the children of the marriage, especially those who are still young enough to look up to their parents as role models? It's just not accurate to say that adultery only affects the spouses. Children can be affected, too, even if the parents don't divorce.

Ruth Marcus: Of course. But...still not the public's business.

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Tampa, Florida: Good for Tiger! I still don't understand how or why the Florida State Troopers issued him a $164 ticket. His home is in a gated, private community and if his neighbors didn't make a complaint (a 911 call isn't a legal complaint, I think), and a Law Enforcement Officer didn't witness the "incident", then LET IT BE!...As for the WH Gate Crashers, CHARGE THEM LEGALLY with trespassing and make them serve the jail time-they can put THAT on their Facebook page (I don't think so).

Ruth Marcus: I think it will be really interesting to see if the gate-crashers are criminally charged. But they probably will put it on their Facebook page.

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They gave him a $164 ticket and closed the case. : Yeah. Another example of how the rich and famous get better treatment.

Ruth Marcus: Boy, in the one actual accident I was in, I managed to total someone's car (no one was hurt, thank God) and did not get a ticket.

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somehow, I doubt a 40-something: In a post 9/11 article (when she was searching for her boyfriend, who had been in the WTC), Rachel Uchitel's age is given as 32. Which makes her (at least) 40 now, assuming she was telling the truth then.

Ruth Marcus: Ok. I'm interested in the concept of the professional VIP hostess, or whatever her job description was...

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New York: Ruth Marcus, your columns are a first-read for me. Whether or not I agree, they are always -- always -- thoughtful and responsibly written. Thanks.

Ruth Marcus: Ok, it is hard to end on a nicer note than that. Thank you all so much for reading, emailing, and chatting. I really enjoy these.

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