Paul Farhi on pop culture: How should 'respectable' media cover tabloid news stories?

Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 8, 2009; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Paul Farhi was online Tuesday, Dec. 8, at 1 p.m. ET to talk about the latest news and topical issues in the pop culture world of TV, radio, movies and trends.

Today: "Tabloid journalism" used to be a dirty phrase. But is it? From Tiger and John Edwards's personal lives to the Salahis, the stories that get dismissed as "tabloid" actually have much to say about we, the people. How should the "respectable" media cover these tales? Or should they cover them at all?

Column: Reality TV attracts, um, larger-than-life characters


Paul Farhi: Greetings, all, and thanks for stopping by....We get letters, lots and lots of letters (actually, mostly emails) over here at the Paragraph Factory about our coverage of Tiger Woods, the Salahis and other "tabloid" messes. Stop, the e-mailers say. Focus on "what's important." And then they go on to tell us what's important: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Israel, health-care, recession/unemployment, budget deficits, flu pandemics, global warming, etc. etc..

Well, no doubt. But with all due respect to those indisputably very important subjects, (and at the risk of trying to justify my existence, given that I have contributed my little share to the mountains of Tiger and Salahi coverage), I would suggest that many stories dismissed as "tabloid-y" are themselves just as worthy as the official Very Important Stories. Beyond all the tawdriness of the Tiger Affair (or perhaps Affairs) there are some very compelling themes at work. In addition to being an object lesson in the mysteries of the human heart, the Tiger story raises issues of domestic violence, marital fidelity, personal legal responsibility, truth and illusion, the nature of celebrity in a media age (and all with pictures of very attractive women!). The Salahis? Well, the obvious: Just who is protecting the president and how well are they doing their jobs when a couple of nitwits can stroll into the White House? (Great skit on 'SNL' about this the other night, btw)....

One more thing: These stories are just darned interesting (how DID those dagnabbed Salahis do it?). They're classic conversation starters; people can relate to them in a personal, visceral way. And "interesting" needs no further justification. It's one of my two criteria for what qualifies as a worthwhile news story. The other is "important." You can go overboard, sure, but with these "tabloid" stories, I'd argue that you often get both "interesting" and "important"--two, two mints--in one bundle.

End of lecture (and no, this will not be on the test). Let's go to the phones


Washington, D.C.: Sex sells. That doesn't mean you have to sell sex.

Paul Farhi: Well, we really haven't. Our coverage has been ABOUT sexual behavior, but it's been rather chaste. No cheesecake-y pictures, no bimbo interviews. I think we've been pretty high-minded about an admittedly sordid piece of business.


Tabloid, USA: My best friend and hopefully future husband is Japanese and moved to study in Michigan. I was born in California. I look at celebrity gossip before I check the Washington Post. My sweetheart thinks it is absurd and an ugly part of the culture in the USA. Is that true? I think it is fine as long as you care about real issues. Hearing about all the people being killed, starving to death, not having the chance to go to college and every sad thing going on in the world leads to a desire for wanting to check out every now and then.

Paul Farhi: The Japanese are lecturing us about sordidness? Have you seen their TV game shows? Have you noticed how porn is inescapable on the streets of Japan's major cities? They do sordid pretty well, it seems to me.


Takoma Park, Md.: I find the coverage of Tiger Woods's personal life to be infinitely more interesting than the exhaustive coverage of his golfing career.

Paul Farhi: Haha! I find both rather interesting...


Washington, D.C.: "They're classic conversation starters; people can relate to them in a personal, visceral way."

I think you are confusing news with gossip.

Paul Farhi: Well, no. News is about the facts. Gossips is about speculation. We try (and I can see the haters coming on this one) to keep the two separate.


Yes, it's news: When a celebrity like Tiger falls from grace, it's news because he's a public person and there are a lot of people who look up to him and admire his accomplishments. I think it's just fine for stories like this to be investigated by legit news sources. There are some who think it's all too gossipy -- fine, don't read it then. But to suggest that the media shouldn't investigate? Nope.

Paul Farhi: Ah. Thanks for reminding me. I forgot the obvious angle here: the hypocrisy angle. Celebrities (and politicians) get built up in ways that aren't always truthful. These kinds of stories correct the record.


SATX: While I don't read tabloids, I don't feel a bit guilty about reading WaPo, NYT, etc, coverage when famous people with squeaky clean images suddenly get tripped up. The folks who should be really torqued when stuff like this (i.e., Tiger) happens are the ad agencies, advertisers, etc. I would never have bought a Buick just because Tiger was hawking them at one time, but there are plenty of people who did -- because advertising works. I've read that the current troubles won't affect Tiger's ability to make $$ shilling products, but I wonder: does Titleist (or whoever) really want this kind of association?

Paul Farhi: Yes, they do. So far, none of Tiger's major sponsors--Gatorade, EA Sports, Gillette, Nike, Tag Heuer, etc.--have abandoned him. In fact, several have issued supportive statements, effectively saying, "We'll be here when all this blows over." And they will, as long as Tiger keeps winning golf tournaments.


Woodbridge, Va.: Media outlets continue to insist tabloid journalism sells well, which is why they provide so much of it. But I notice that Fox News and MSNBC have more public policy based programming in the 6:00 to 10:00 time slot then CNN and both have higher ratings. I may not agree with the ideological leanings of either network but over the summer, CNN was all Michael all the time. And has Larry King ever done anything other than tabloid? Or held a lead in the ratings over Fox or MSNBC? I believe tabloid journalism is like desert, it may be the most fun part of the meal and people may enjoy pigging out occasionally but few people want a steady diet of desserts or tabloid.

Paul Farhi: TV is quite different than print, of course. CNN (or Fox or MSNBC or whatever) can go wall-to-wall with a story and crowd out everything else. Print can do two (or 32) things at once. So, you can get your dessert--and your meat and potatoes, salad and nice beverage, too.

_______________________ The game Woods couldn't control (Post, Dec. 4)


Herndon, Va.: Mr. F: Your esteemed colleague, Mike Wilbon, after the "Tiger story" blew wide open, noted of all the sports top-level icons from Babe Ruth up to the present, the only one about whom he never even heard a rumor about, shall we say, "episodes," was Jackie Robinson. That's hardly surprising. If I were at that exalted level, and women were literally throwing themselves at me, being faithful would be a LOT harder. Sure, we shouldn't be this interested in Tiger, but when it's a world-famous figure of any nature, we are. Is the Pope next?

Paul Farhi: I saw that and thought that was very interesting. But did we simply not know about Jackie Robinson, or was he the squeaky clean guy he seems to have been? There were different standards of reporting back then, of course (JFK got away with a lot). And I'm not insinuating a thing about Jackie Robinson; I hope he was the icon he was made out to be. And truth be told, I'm not sure I would think that much less of him if his private life were messier than we realize...


Anonymous: I live in small town and if my non-famous neighbor crashed his car into a sideway, that's news. Add in the fact that he's world famous athlete, it's bigger news, but c'mon, this isn't anything new?

Plus Tiger Woods's whole career started out with those Nike commercials with little children saying "I am Tiger Woods" so he was a role-model image as much as his talent as golfing.

Paul Farhi: Yes. As they told us back in grade-school journalism class, the first three letters of "news" spell "new" (I think it still does, as a matter of fact). So, the 12th woman to come forward in the Tiger story isn't going to rate much ink, pixels or airtime as the first, um, four to seven.


Foggy Bottom, D.C.: Mr. Farhi:

Please keep in mind that the Salahi story is not a "tabloid story." It is literally a federal crime -- note, a federal crime -- to lie your way into a high-security, high-level White House state dinner. It is also a crime to misrepresent yourself, your standing, or your invitation to such an event. A crime. A crime involving national security, homeland security, intelligence, White House security, the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the security and protection of the president of the United States of America. Thus, when you have two obviously mentally-unstable, criminal, lying scam artists illegally entering a high-security White House state dinner, that is indeed literally not a "tabloid," or lower-level story. It is a story -- again, for emphasis s-- of national security, intelligence, homeland security --and the security and protection of the president. Please keep these important details in mind as officials in several jurisdictions pursue civil, and possibly criminal, legal actions against this couple.

Paul Farhi: Couldn't have said it better, Foggy B. Thanks...Just FYI: All the related Salahi stories--the polo-cup scam, the cheerleader caper, the fake Miss USA claim, and on and on--are a mixture of potential crime and chicanery, too. All interesting, and all bear on the first and most important issue.

_______________________ Cheerleaders get fired up about Salahi (Post, Dec. 3)


Washington, D.C.: "Well, no. News is about the facts. Gossip is about speculation. We try (and I can see the haters coming on this one) to keep the two separate."

You can still chatter about facts. The point is that it's really nobody's business but his own what Tiger Woods gets up to in his private life. The fact that he is a celebrity does not justify the invasion into his privacy.

Paul Farhi: Well, no defending invading his privacy, but much of this has NOT been private. The car crash and police report certainly. His failure to speak with the cops. His public admission of "transgressions" and "sins." No need to invade anyone's privacy to get this story.


re: 12th woman : I'm going to guess 18. Then it makes a perfect game.

Too many puns could go with this one....

Paul Farhi: I won't touch those, but I would suggest you check the list (available all over your local internet) of actual slogans used by Tiger-related sponsors. They're ALL unintentional double entendres. "The best a man can get" (Gillette); "Just do it" (Nike), "Go on, be a Tiger" (Accenture), and so on...


Hollywood, Calif.: Hi Paul!

Living in LA LA Land, we certainly get oversaturated with celebrity "news"....frankly, I am not above reading (and being highly interested) about Tiger and his foibles, maybe not as much when a source has a big "breaking" story about something ridiculous like Katie Holmes getting a new haircut or which celeb is now dating John Mayer.

Paul Farhi: Right. Having grown up in L.A., I can attest that the balance in the local news diet is way off. Celeb trivia has its place, but dominating the local TV news is not the place I had in mind. Even in its much-reduced, Tribune-ized form, the L.A. Times is still the great counter-weight to all the airheaded fluffiness in SoCal...


Washington, D.C.: "No need to invade anyone's privacy to get this story."

But do you NEED to print it? Does the public NEED to know?

Paul Farhi: "Need" and "want" are in a vicious battle. Sometimes "need" is up and "want" down. I root for "need" most of the time, but "need" can get a little wearisome. Then I'm a big "want" fan.


Washington, D.C. : About Babe Ruth: I heard a New York sports reporter once talk about how, as a young man, he was traveling on the Yankee team train with an older reporter. The two of them were sitting in the club car playing gin early in the morning when suddenly the door from the adjoining car burst open and an obviously drunk young woman ran through, giggling and nearly naked. She was quickly followed by a laughing, fully naked Babe Ruth.

The young reporter was stunned. The older one said, "It's a good thing we didn't see that, or we'd have to write about it."

Paul Farhi: Haha! That story is known as a 2G2C--too good to check.


McLean, Va.: The Tiger story could also involve a crime (although certainly on a lesser scale than the Salahi's) if it turned out that some of his injuries were inflicted before he got into the car. His thrice refusing to be interviewed by the police certainly seems to indicate that he was hiding something.

Paul Farhi: Wouldn't it be something if it turns out he had a relationship with....Michaele Salahi? (Or maybe she'd only claim one)....


Washington, D.C.: Some people don't watch football or basketball, so I think that you shouldn't cover them, either. You can devote the space to examining the impact of each different health-care bill on flexible spending accounts and the dollar's fluctuating relationship with the yen.

I won't buy the paper in that event, but so what.


Paul Farhi: Well, I think we had that flexible spending account story the other day. No sarcasm...


You're my only hope: Paul, the media (including the Post) are starting their "end of the decade" retrospective coverage. Please stop the madness. Decades don't end in years ending in 9, they end in years ending in 0. This decade doesn't end until next year is over.

This is the way it's always been, until 1999 rolled around. Now the media can't even get this right.

Remember, when your parents taught you to count, they didn't teach you to count to nine...

Paul Farhi: This goes back to the Y2K debate, doesn't it? Did the new millennium start in 2000 or 2001? And, you know, this debate has the potential to be just as boring now as it was then.


Herndon, Va.: Mr F: I don't really need to know all about your private life, but I want to. Please reveal all, and I'll get to work on a TV and movie deal -- but make it spicy!!

Paul Farhi: When I win 14 major golf championships, when I become the world's greatest golfer, when I have tens of millions of dollars of endorsements (and I'm not saying I won't do all those things), then we can talk tell-all.


The Airless Cubicle: We're all human. That means that we have imperfections and limitations, including our inability to comprehend great things.

Sure, if we care, we are capable of knowing about Great Issues. We can recite statistics or outline key positions on either sides. We can understand some of the implications of a Great Issue. But Great Issues are too broad.

Paul, you and I can't comprehend a number bigger than three instantly in our mind. (Count with me: No stones, one stone, two stones, three stones, two and two stones, two and three stones...) Why should I focus on global warming or the Federal deficit when I can complain about the behavior of Chad Ochocinco?

For example, Aristotle wrote comprehensively about ethics and how one should behave. He postulated the rule of the Golden Mean, which is neither too much nor too little of any given quality. Fine. We understand the principle generally. However, when we see a man such as Tiger Woods become the protagonist of a self-created tragedy, we can see a specific Golden Mean. Aristotle would have said, after "What's golf?" is "A busy and fulfilling marriage is the Golden Mean between celibacy and promiscuity; a happy man has only one partner."

Now, a serious newspaper such as the Post can achieve a Golden Mean in news coverage of "tabloid" events. Tell what happened. Be comprehensive but neither be too salacious or trivial, nor brush it off as below the Olympian gaze of the Media.

Stalin said "The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of a million men is a statistic." To achieve a balance, we need to know both the tragedies and the statistics.

Paul Farhi: Wow, AC--Aristotle, Stalin AND Chad Ochocinco in one post. Impressive. I think....


San Francisco, Calif.: Maybe it's 'cause I'm getting old (41) and pretty much stopped paying attention to pop culture after 1995 (I've now regressed to 30s and 40s-era entertainment), but the whole concept of celebrity endorsements now strikes me as bizarre. It really hit me the other night during an ad for some cell phone. I recognized Will.I.Am and Avril Lavigne and someone else. I mean, WHY do I give a bleep about these people's choice in smart phone? How is Will.I.Am's endorsement any more valid than the opinion of a gadget-loving, non-famous friend? Are there really people who make buying decisions, consciously or not, based on the celebs who use Product X? There used to be a magazine (Domino?) that took the conceit even further -- literally identifying the makers of items worn by celebs in public and telling you where you could obtain said item (get Jennifer Anniston's kicky sandals and pair them with Britney's dangly earrings). I knew a woman who put a lot of stock in this sort of bleeping information. I can KIND OF see how that works for fashion. But a cell phone? Because of a teen singing fad? What a bunch of sheep the "general public" has become...

Paul Farhi: It's an interesting question. But this is an old tried-and-true ad concept. It's called "borrowed interest"--using the interest in one thing (a celeb) to gain attention for another thing (a product). Sometimes the association is logical and obvious (Tiger endorsing Nike golf clubs and balls), and sometimes it's not. But it's not entirely illogical. Will.I.Am or Avril Lavigne say "cool" or "young" or "hip" to a fair slice of the cellphone-using/buying public. By using them as endorsers, AT&T or whomever is saying, "Our phone is cool/young/hip, too."


Japanese: The Japanese media and public so overly reported and invaded the Princess's life for not being able to have a male son that caused her to become depressed and withdraw almost completely from public life. I'm not sure following stories on celebrities (who actively put themselves out there and do all sorts of sordid activities) is at all sordid in comparison.

Paul Farhi: Yes. Thank you.


Really?: You include the Sahalis as a tabloid story? Though, thankfully, they meant the president and dignitaries no harm, I would think it would still be hard news that a couple was able to breach White House Security. What if they had meant harm? One shudders...

Paul Farhi: It's certainly an important story, for the reasons you cite, but it became tabloid fodder, too, because of the sordid background of these two. Long after the potential threat disappeared, the Salahis were still in the news. Do you remember any other White House gate crasher (and there have been many) whose 15 minutes lasted as long?


Alexandria, Va.: Is the irony intentional that the Airless Cubicle is a windbag?

Paul Farhi: Now, now. I'd like to see you work the following names into a post (Airless could do it standing on his head): Attila the Hun, Bill O'Reilly, and Carrot Top. Go...


State of hypocrisy?: Paul, tell me what to think, please. On the one hand, domestic violence is wrong, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator and victim. Therefore, the fact that Tiger may have been fleeing an attack by his wife is a serious matter.

Then I hear about these other women spilling out of the woodwork and I start thinking, well, I might chase my husband down with a seven-iron too.

I guess it boils down to Chris Rock's take on wife-beating: I don't condone it. But I understand.

Paul Farhi: Never thought I'd say it, but Chris Rock is wrong. I don't condone it. And I don't understand it. It's a total loss of control. It's animalistic.


From Politico: "Executives at National Public Radio recently asked the network's top political correspondent, Mara Liasson, to reconsider her regular appearances on Fox News because of what they perceived as the network's political bias, two sources familiar with the effort said."


Paul Farhi: What's the "ahem" about? That Fox News is "biased"? That a respected news organization might not want its reporters spewing opinions? That a respected news org might not want its reporter spewing opinions on an allegedly biased network?


Is It News?: With the multiple news and "news" sources available on the Internet, and the stresses put on local newspapers (cutting staff), maybe your e-mailers have a point -- the Post should focus more on the hard news of D.C. and the federal gov't (I would include the Salahi breach in this) and leave the Tiger mess to the tabloids. Not that I don't enjoy reading about it though :) Thoughts?

Paul Farhi: Yes, my thought is this: We should cover the important Washington stuff, but we shouldn't be boring about it.


Hamilton, Va.: Well the Salahis seem to make a habit of trying to cheat their fellow residents of the D..C area. I see that as a legitimate story. The White House escapade started it but there is much more to it now. Tiger stories have not dominated the news. They are there, not on the front page everyday. There are also stories about all the important stuff but you can go over the Afghan mess only so much. Health care, the Senate is doing a fine job of making that irrelevant not the press.

Paul Farhi: And we seem to have covered the health-care bill pretty well. I suppose one could make the argument that we would cover it BETTER if we dropped the Tiger/Salahi stuff and devoted more of our resources to it. But I don't know why we would want to do that.


Baltimore, Md.: Re Tiger Woods: It is not the women that surprise me so much in this story -- well, perhaps the sheer volume of them is surprising. No, the real head scratcher for me is that Woods stands revealed as a Vegas party dude kind of guy, as if an inner John Daly had been lurking all those years inside that imperious shell Woods had worn for the world. Suddenly, we see surreptitiously shot cell phone pictures of Tiger embracing scantily clad hostesses. If the guy was this indiscreet for this long, how did the story stay under wraps until the Thanksgiving night incident?

Paul Farhi: Great question! Me, I'm not that easily shocked, but I certainly have been surprised by the Tiger revelations. And that's part of the story, too. We thought we knew this guy. Well, we did--but only a part of him. The rest remained out of view. And that was purposeful. Tiger was pretty careful about his private partying; from what I understand, he would get the VIP treatment everywhere he went. Pretty easy to screen out the press on that basis, and pretty easy to stay out of trouble in semi-public situations, too.


Washington, D.C.: Paul Farhi: What's the "ahem" about? That Fox News is "biased"? That a respected news organization might not want its reporters spewing opinions? That a respected news org might not want its reporter spewing opinions on an allegedly biased network?

_______________________ In your response, respected = liberal, and biased = conservative.

But you're not biased, are you?

Paul Farhi: You miss my point. It's not me who considers Fox News "biased"--but NPR might view it that way. And NPR's "respected" nature isn't a comment on its liberalness, but on the quality of its journalism, which is pretty darn good (but I'm probably biased about journalistic quality).


The Airless Cubicle: Attila the Hun, Bill O'Reilly, and Carrot Top.

Name two ruthless people who threaten civilization as we know it and an entertainer.

Paul Farhi: Well done, Carnac!


Silver Spring, Md.: I think I have seen more columns and commentary on Tiger than actual news stories.

And, am I too sensitive? My husband showed me the SNL skit from Saturday, and I didn't think it was funny at all, because it makes light of domestic violence. He thought it was funny, and I just thought how it would look if Tiger had beat his wife up...

Paul Farhi: Come to think of it, me, too--lots more clucking and commenting on Tiger than actual facts (i.e., news). And, sensitive guy that I am, it never occurred to me to NOT laugh at the SNL-Tiger sketch on the domestic violence thing. Fair point.


Washington, D.C.: Thanks for the reference to NPR being a respected news organization that may be concerned about the appearance of conservative bias by its reporters. I needed a chuckle today.

Paul Farhi: Didn't say that. I was simply asking for clarification on the point. Even if you assume no bias on NPR or Fox News, ask yourself this: Does ANY news organization that wants to be taken seriously want its reporters to go around offering opinions on the stories that said reporter covers? Isn't that a clear journalistic violation?


Borrowed Interest: Aren't you just using Woods and sex to sell your newspapers?

Paul Farhi: Yes, we are. And we're also using coverage of health care, foreign news, comics, sports, politics, and classified ads to sell our newspaper, too. Maybe you don't understand this, but we are trying to make our paper interesting to our readers. Odd but true.


Germantown, Md.: I know this is too late but I have to explain how advertising works. Yes, there are people who will buy a Buick just because Tiger endorses it. But, most people are smarter than that. Buick uses Tiger mostly to get your attention, to keep you from flipping channels, then Buick can try to get you interested in their car.

I'll bet that even if you don't want to buy a car, or a watch, or a sports drink, you can identify the ones Tiger endorses, and that's all the advertisers hope for.

Paul Farhi: Exactly. Thanks, G-town...


Loss of control: Paul, if you don't understand loss of control then you don't understand human beings. We shouldn't lose control, but we sometimes do.

Paul Farhi: Well, okay. But I think Rock is really saying that a spouse can sometimes really get under one's skin and so abusing him/her is understandable. But it shouldn't be. Outside of child abuse, it's about as low as human being can go.


Elsewhere, D.C.: Farhi -- "Does ANY news organization that wants to be taken seriously want its reporters to go around offering opinions on the stories that said reporter covers?"

Then NPR should state the objection that way, rather than referencing Fox's alleged political leanings.

Paul Farhi: Really? Perhaps NPR DOES think Fox News is partisan (not exactly a bold opinion). Would it want any of its reporters associated with a network--any network--that it considers partisan? If Liasson had a gig on MSNBC, wouldn't the same standard apply? It should...


We thought we knew this guy. Well, we did -- but only a part of him.: No, we didn't. We never really know these people. And I think the point is we don't want to know them. Because behind the money and women and superficial BS they are only human beings. And human beings have a tendency to disappoint us. So we elevate these people to Godlike status, to the point where they are obliged to publicly confess to their "transgressions" and "sins," when what they have done is probably just what you or I would do if we were ever in their situation.

Paul Farhi: Well, we certainly know part of them. Here's what we knew about Tiger: Amazing golf prodigy, son of Earl, grows up to become fantastic pro. Wins lots and lots of tournaments with his talent and supreme focus. Great competitor. Perfectionist. Endorser supreme. Married to gorgeous Swedish model. Two kids....That sounds like a LOT to me.


McLean, Va.: Actually, Bill O'Reilly is an almost perfect blend of Attila the Hun and Carrot Top, but without the higher mental acumen of either.

Paul Farhi: Judges?.....Ding ding ding!


Washington, D.C.: "Yes, my thought is this: We should cover the important Washington stuff, but we shouldn't be boring about it."

As a serious news organization you have no obligation to entertain. If it's boring it's boring.

Paul Farhi: "Entertain" is pushing it. But I can assure you that reporters here don't set out to write boring stories, no matter what the topic. Any issue, no matter how seemingly dry, can be written about in an interesting way, without compromising intellectual rigor. We don't always succeed, but "serious" doesn't have to mean "boring."


Hypocrisy II: Thank goodness you said Chris Rock is wrong. I was horrified at myself for identifying with that statement.

I guess the difference is that while I can 'imagine' being enraged and humiliated enough to chase my dirty-dog cheating spouse out of the house with a golf club, I think that, deep down, I would never actually be physically able to do it.

I would, however, take him to court and clean his financial clock.

Paul Farhi: Sure. And that's why courts exist--so that civilized people can settle their difference without bending seven irons over each other's heads.


Knowing celebrities: "That sounds like a LOT to me."

But we don't know him personally, which is what you seemed to suggest in your earlier comment.

Paul Farhi: Well, that's kind of impossible, isn't it? There's one Tiger Woods and about six billion people who aren't. We're never really going to know an individual personally through the media. But we are going to form a picture of him/her through his/her mediated image. That's what I was trying to say about Tiger.


McLean, Va.: Actually, it seems that ALL those roundtable discussion programs consist of reporters like Andrea Mitchell offering commentary on the stories they cover.

Paul Farhi: Yes. True. And back when we were taught to shut up about our personal opinions. Not no more, I guess.


Alexandria, Va.: If sponsors want celebrities only because they can grab a viewer's attention, then O.J. Simpson should be making more than Tiger Woods.

Paul Farhi: Well, grab attention "in a positive way." Sponsors don't want an unsavory association, obviously, which is why they usually have "morals clauses" in their contracts with celeb endorsers that enable them to drop a celeb when/if he or she goes off the rails.


Inclement weather : Should the kids do their homework tonight?

Paul Farhi: No, but if snow is involved, look for the reporter-on-the-overpass stand-up. I LOVE the ROTO stand-up!


Alexandria, Va.: Should anyone care at all about the murder conviction of Amanda Knox? All the news media were treating it as a major international story.

Paul Farhi: That one kinda snuck up on me. And, yes, I found myself quite interested. Because a) Ms. Knox is a beautiful young woman; b) it was a shocking, lurid crime; c) there was some evidence she got railroaded by the Italian courts and media.

Again: Interesting (and possibly important).


Washington, D.C.: According to Politico, "Liasson defended her work for Fox by saying that she appears on two of the network's news programs, not on commentary programs with conservative hosts, the source said."

Go ahead and tell me that NPR would be doing this if Liasson was appearing on MSNBC. Please, I could use a good laugh.

Paul Farhi: I would hope they would. Because it seems to me that Fox News' particular (alleged) bias isn't really as important as the notion that NPR doesn't want its reporters associated with ANY network perceived as biased. If they're just picking on Fox News, then, yeah, it's suspicious.


Ashland, Mo.: Isn't the reason conventional news outlets are more tabloidy that the defamation laws were essentially gutted by New York Times v. Sullivan. The Supreme Court thought it was making the world safe for the Post and Times, but didn't foresee it was just making them more like the National Enquirer.

Paul Farhi: That doesn't bother me. There are still laws on the books about defamation and libel. If John Edwards wants to sue the National Enquirer for its reporting, he is free to do so.


D.C.: I understand why people are "disappointed" in Tiger's behavior. Any by "people," I mean fans and strangers with no personal connection but who have somehow bought into the juggernaut that is the professional athletes' image/management team. I remember when my own small son wanted to "be like Mike." What does that mean? Except lots of dollars and image manipulation by those who benefit from adulation and spending. And I blame a lot of mainstream sports reporters who think athletics is some Mt. Olympus. While I wish a world full of heroes for my son, it is likely that many touted "heroes" will crash and burn. Just saying that the expectations and accolades are out of proportion. As is our collective disappointment.

Paul Farhi: Well, you'd have thought we would have learned that by now. "Ball Four" was the great awakening for me on this subject. And that came out, what, almost 40 years ago?


Washington, D.C.: Mara Liasson has been on Fox News for years now, a great counterbalance to the more conservatives voices on the two shows on which she appears.

Don't you think it's the SLIGHTEST bit odd that NRP finally thought there was a problem, once Obama got elected? Let's not be disingenuous here. If NPR didn't think there was a problem until January of this year, why now?

Paul Farhi: Fair question, and one that Liasson could plausibly raise with her NPR bosses. My answer is, I don't know. But why is she acting as "a great counter-balance to the more conservative voices" in the first place. That's not her job. Her job is to be a reporter and to state the facts, not her opinion. If she wants to be a pundit, great. But stop being a reporter first. People (me) might not be able to tell the difference.


McLean, Va.: If sponsors have a morals clause that they invoke when an endorser goes off the rails, why has none invoked it in light of the Tiger revelations?

Paul Farhi: Because they figure that Tiger will very likely recover, start winning again and that everyone will forget what the hubbub was all about in the first place. If he were Michael Vick during the dog-fight years, they'd be gone gone gone.


Knox story: I've notice the Amanda Knox trial has a lot of parallels with the Louise Woodward trial in Boston, back in the '90s. Woodward was an au pair that the DA accused of slamming a baby's head against the wall because her employers took her to task for partying and talking on the phone too much. She was criticized for being too calm during the trial. There was some suggestion of anti-British feeling among Boston's Irish-American population... etc.

Paul Farhi: I vaguely recall that one. Isn't it interesting how someone gets demonized? Woodward "talked on the phone too much." Knox apparently had a party-hearty rep, and her roommate complained about her bad hygiene (I don't really want to know exactly what that meant). But those things were trotted out to help make the case that Woodward and Knox were murderers. Weird.


On heroes...: We had a discussion at the (kitchen)Roundtable at my house last night -- it's hard to know who your "heroes" should be. Movie Stars? Yikes. Sportscritters? Yikesyikes. Politicians? (Fainting).

Paul Farhi: Maybe the grown-up thing to do is recognized that all humans are fallible. I always thought it was creepy at political rallies how much the true believers thought their candidate was god. I just wanted to say to all of them, "You people are going to be sadly disappointed."


Serious news only?: Enough with the sniffing about how a serious newspaper should stick with hard policy issues and stop debasing itself with the celebrity/gossip stuff. I don't doubt these chatters' sincerity, but they alone cannot support the paper. Really, if I wanted to read The Economist, I would -- but I don't expect or want the Post (or the NYT) to define itself so narrowly.

(Sheesh. $5 says these are the same people who boast that they don't even own a TV. Well, good for them. Just leave the rest of us alone.)

Paul Farhi: I can't help but think the people who lecture us about "serious" news as just a little presumptuous and self-serving. That is, by demanding "important" stories, they seem to trying to telegraph that they themselves are verrrrry serious people and that we should follow their sterling example.


Paul Farhi: Folks, we're way past injury time here, so I'd better wrap it all up. But no worries: The Tiger story doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon (some new wrinkles and revelations today, apparently), so we can resume the hashing and thrashing next time. Next time is next week, same day, same hour(s). Many thanks for stopping by today. As always, regards to all! --Paul.


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company