Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tiger Woods and Broken Journalism

Tiger Woods and Broken Journalism

By Evan Weiner

The United States must not be conducting two wars or trying to get out of a severe recession or trying to figure out how to solve the health care crisis. You see two big name so-called journalists, Bob Schieffer of the CBS television network and the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd have decided to comment on the golfer Tiger Woods personal problems which means all is well with the world and America.

Schieffer on his CBS-TV Face the Nation public affairs program and Dowd in her New York Times column.

The fact that Schieffer, the one time CBS Evening News anchor, and Dowd are throwing on their two cents on Woods shows just how far journalism has sank. Schieffer, if he has to weigh in on Tiger Woods, should just go back to his Friday night dinners and discussion of fantasy baseball with his brother Tom, the former Texas Rangers President and Rangers Managing General Partner George W. Bush like they did in the 1990s and Dowd, well someone at the New York Times likes her. Hopefully for the columnist that like will still be on display in the future as later this week the New York Times plans lets go of a number of employees.

The Times is hemorrhaging money and has to lay off personal.

The times are a changing and the New York Times is not what it once was nor is CBS News, the home of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Murrow helped bring down Senator Joseph McCarthy on the See It Now show back on March 9, 1954 and Cronkite concluded the Vietnam War was not winnable on February 27, 1968 during a CBS news program which set into motion a series of events that might have had a heavy influence on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s decision not to seek re-election in 1968.

To be fair, both Murrow and Cronkite did preside over a lot of fluff programming as well with Murrow hosting People to People and Cronkite was an anchor at the 1960 Winter Olympics and did the narration of the Violent World of Sam Huff as part of the “The Twentieth Century” series on October 30, 1960.

There is a lot going on in the world. A global climate conference in Copenhagen, more troops will be headed to Afghanistan, unemployment at 10 percent, the on going health care debate and in the sports world, head injuries in football. All of that is significantly more important than whatever is going on between Woods and his wife.

The tearing down of an idol is nothing new in American journalism and now it is Tiger Woods turn to feel the wrath of the jock sniffers who report on sports. Somehow Tiger didn’t level with them, as if the reporters who follow golf deserve an explanation of his exploits. Of course Tiger has never palled around with sportswriters types anyway and now they can even the score since he is not their friend. Hell hath no fury like a sportswriter or sportswriters scorned.

There will be fewer reporters following Tiger Woods around in 2010 as the newspaper industry continues to bleed red ink and the radio/TV industry cuts back on news programming. The funny thing about the entire Tiger Woods coverage is that newspapers, radio and TV are giving the people what they want.


Of course if scandal really did sell, the National Enquirer would not be reeling. The New York Post would be selling millions of papers daily instead of seeing plunging circulation and the Gannett newspapers would not be laying off reporters, closing down printing presses and furloughing employees. The Gannett papers including USA Today, the New York suburban papers including the Journal News and others have ceased to be legitimate publications.

Newspaper executives and newspaper owners like Rupert Murdoch can scream all they want about how Google and the internet have inflicted a great deal of damage on their circulation and advertising but the truth is simple. Newspaper owners, publishers and managers sat snug while people like Craig Newmark came up with a better idea, Craig’s List, which took millions of dollars away from papers by charging far less for classified ads.

It is true advertisers are cutting back because of the economy yet marketers are willing to spend more on web advertising.

Tiger Woods is not going to sell any more newspapers or even more National Enquirers. But don’t tell that to various executives.

At one time, newspapers provided the backbone of publicist for sports. Notre Dame owes a great deal to the writers of the 1920s who sold the public on the mythology of George Gipp, the Four Horsemen and Knute Rockne. Newspapers made Babe Ruth and Red Grange household names in the 1920s and sports has embraced newspapers and sportswriters have gained a sense of entitlement which includes voting for various sports hall of fames and for individual players and manager or coaches awards which impacts on the earnings power of athletes, coaches and sports executives.

Today college students don’t read newspapers and young people get sports information from team websites, league websites, blogs, TV and radio. The golden age of the newspaper in America is gone and AARP members are the last generation that depends on newspapers for information. That is an undisputed fact.

Tiger Woods is a genuine 14 carat superstar with major ability in his field which is golf. Tiger doesn’t need sportswriters around because the truth of the matter is that he doesn’t say very much and his talent is always on display and people who follow Tiger don’t need a sportswriters’ analyst of his ability. They can listen to the former professional golfer who is part of a television network’s presentation of a golf tournament.

By the way, Tiger is not in trouble with the law. The case is closed and done with Tiger playing a small fine. But the media is not done with Tiger, the story they created about Tiger has come undone and it is payback time. Yet Tiger is not going to add to the media bottom line with scandal. It doesn’t work, if it did Confidential magazine would still be in circulation.

Tiger Woods never really sold newspapers but he did draw eyeballs to the TV screen whenever he played in a tournament. Woods sponsors are not fleeing and the Professional Golf Association’s media partners whether it is Summer Redstone’s CBS, General Electric’s NBC (soon to be merged with the Philadelphia-based Comcast, the multiple systems operator which owns the Golf Channel and Versus, which carries PGA shows), Disney’s ESPN and ABC in the US or the Disney-owner TSN in Canada along with RDS and CanWest north of the border and the numerous televisions partners globally can’t wait for Tiger to play in the tournaments they are showing. XM Satellite Radio, another financially struggling entity, is not dissolving its partnership with the PGA because of Tiger’s car accident or apparent National Enquirer fodder lifestyle.

Schieffer should keep his CBS Face the Nation program focused squarely addressing important American issues and Dowd, well she should go back to the Breck Girl (John Edwards) type columns on politics. Tiger will get more viewers for Redstone by playing golf; Tiger will not bring Redstone or Schieffer any new viewers. Dowd’s columns on Tiger will not help bring readers back to the New York Times.

As soon as Tiger is back on the golf course, all will be forgiven. Tiger is just another jock, another human being; although he is a superior golfer and he will make his money which is more than can be said for the New York Times or the National Enquirer.

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