has, apparently, never read a tabloid newspaper or watched a tabloid show. Nobody may have ever been so unsavvy as Tiger.
The Tiger image—uncomplicated, unspoiled, unworldly, utterly game-focused, which is now seemingly being debunked by events and by the tabloids—may actually be a true one. He really is not part of this world. He’s a naïf. A deer in the headlights. A dope. A dope frantically trying to hide his own guilt.
He’s the perfect tabloid catch.
The real tabloid story occurs in the time between exposure and when the subject gets his response strategy in place. That is, all the tension in the storyline derives from how long it takes the celebrity to get his PR line down. That’s the reality-television aspect of all this: In the midst of great stress and panic, can you get your PR operation to work? (We’re fascinated to see the hapless celebrity run around like a chicken without its head.)
It’s compelling stuff.
The essence of that PR operation is to deny reality. To project control, calm, cool. To avoid conflict of any sort. To, by force of PR will, spread a blanket of dullness over all salacious details. The essence of the media play is to focus on and to enhance a hyper reality. What we really want to see is the subject writhing on a hook.
We want a demonstration of as much public pain and abject humiliation as possible.
We want to see PR efforts that mess up. For some reason, this is particularly satisfying: when celebrities try a PR move and it fails.
We want to see the maximum loss of control. Ideally, this will include almost everyone the celebrity has ever known talking to the tabloids.
We want the celebrity to be alone. We being the media, and we the eager public (it’s an inclusive public, too: high, middle, and low brow).
In some sense the real payoff here, the redeeming value of this or any other tabloid story, is the defeat of PR. In an obviously and stultifying PR-managed world, it is a big relief to see such management undone.
On the other hand—damned if you do and if you don’t—not having a PR operation in place, not being ready to take control, means you are guilty of not only adultery but hubris, too. Tiger believed himself to be invulnerable—even, as the New York Post
tells us, when the National Enquirer
let on it had the goods on him. It traded the adultery story
for Tiger posing for the cover of one of its sister publications. (This, perhaps, ought to raise questions about everybody else, California governors included, who have been on the covers of other magazines in the American Media stable.) Even then he didn’t protect himself.
He seems so guileless, which, in the modern world, is not a positive attribute.
This is not just about a great fall—I’m not sure anyone believes in such falls anymore—nor is it about sex; it’s about how you play the game.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.