AP Photo/John Raoux
A new fire hydrant is seen in the front of Tiger Woods’ home in the Isleworth community in Windermere, Fla., on Monday.
Dan Durbin, a USC Annenberg School of Communications & Journalism professor who specializes in sports media and pop culture, said he was talking to a doctoral student and an undergrad Monday afternoon outside his office about the latest “news” to come out in the Tiger Woods saga.
“They were both speculating about what had happened, based on what they’d heard and read,” said the 48-year-old Durbin. “One said, ‘I heard it was a fight . . .’ The other said, ‘I heard he had an affair’ and then talked about something else he read about something else online.
“And this is the fundamental problem.”
Durbin says he’s in “a wait-and-see mode until some kind of authoritative source gives what seems to be a reasonable and legitimate explanation.”
Good luck with that.
The truth is, to get anything of substance over the last few days in this increasingly salacious saga, you must consider the sources. Then, divide and conquer.
Since the golf star’s single-car accident outside his Florida home early Friday morning, the mainstream sports news media has tried to stick with reporting facts as they have been verified before posting stories on their websites and in their publications. That’s not such as simple process when the competitive urge is to satisfy a dog-paddling audience that dives into the contaminated pool of Internet, sports-talk shows, National Enquirer and a Twitter / Facebook nation innuendo.
What’s true? What isn’t?
What does it really matter?
Because Woods bailed out on attending his own charity golf event at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, it matters to ticket holders who’ve paid to see him perform and were making an honest contribution to his foundation.
And because we live in a media world where someone of his stature manages to exist in a pristine control of information about his private life amidst lucrative endorsements, there are more than just family members to answer to in this case.
(AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)
In this Oct. 5, 2004, file photo, Tiger Woods, left, drives a boat off the yacht “Privacy,” anchored off the luxury resort Sandy Lane, in Barbados.
While Woods tries to carefully craft his message via his official website, it’s the major media that helped him build his image going back to his childhood, said Durbin.
“But now you have sports-talk hosts who have to fill three hours of time, leading to implications that he has something to hide,” he said. “They exist by setting up controversy and lighting up phone lines and engaging fans into the conversation. The same is true for bloggers and online sources, giving them more to chew on.
“You end up getting lost in a world were fans should be going to good, objective sources but they tend to gravitate toward places they trust because they feel they have a personal stake in it.”
Not only that, but the public can be confused by the fact that when sources for the Associated Press and ESPN got stuck for information Monday afternoon, it was TMZ.com to the rescue.
The Hollywood gossip site provided photos from all kinds of angles to the national wire service of Woods’ damaged Cadillac Escalade as it sat parked next a neighbor’s tree and after it took out a fire hydrant.
ESPN used those photos during its “SportsCenter” coverage, and during an afternoon news update, anchor Mike Greenberg sent it to reporter Tom Rinaldi in central Florida, who said: “According to the website TMZ.com, they have been reporting that . . .”
That blurry line keeps getting blurrier.
“When a classic news source gets 99 out of 100 stories correct, it’s only news when the proverbial plane crashes,” said Durbin. “So when a blogger gets it right once in 100 times, it somehow gives them credibility when it’s a major story. As this massive shift keeps taking place in the media, it’s difficult for the classic news media to deal with.”
So while this may not be a significant story in the grand scheme of sports, it’s been one too compelling to look away. If we want to know what appears to have happen, we seem more apt to go with those resources that appear to have instantly connected Point A to Point TMZ rather than wait for confirmation.
On a half-hour special on the Woods story Monday afternoon that seemed to be on a constant loop, Golf Channel, which is covering the first two rounds of the Tiger-less Chevron World Challenge, brought in a crisis-management expert, former O.J. Simpson attorney Robert Shapiro and ex-big-league pitcher Curt Schilling to add to the ongoing discussion, analysis and non-fact finding mission.
“There has been a great deal of speculation around this story,” said Golf Channel host Rich Lerner. “It’s difficult at times to separate fact from rumor.”
Expect that to be the norm as long as the sports media continues to bang into every tree and fire hydrant along the way looking for possible leads.