Tiger Woods Blurring The Line Between Mainstream and Tabloid Journalism

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistMarch 14, 2010

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 19:  Tiger Woods makes a statement from the Sunset Room on the second floor of the TPC Sawgrass, home of the PGA Tour on February 19, 2010 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Woods publicly admitted to cheating on his wife Elin Nordegren but maintained that the issues remain 'a matter between a husband and a wife.'  (Photo by Lori Moffett-Pool/Getty Images)
Pool/Getty Images

With the recent explosion of the Internet, the lines between “mainstream”, “bloggers”, and “tabloid” journalism have become blurred.  We’ve learned to take information we receive from tmz.com, radaronline.com , the National Inquirer , US Weekly , etc. with a grain of salt.

It has long been said that we should not believe everything we read in the papers, and there may be some truth to that.

But much of the general public still relies upon mainstream journalists to provide them with accurate information.

Journalists employed by mainstream newspapers and websites are not only required to, but have an ethical duty to report nothing less than the facts.

An unfortunate side effect of the whole Tiger Woods fiasco is that the integrity of mainstream journalism is now being called into question.  

Furman Bisher, still sharp as a tack at the age of 91, is one of the most experienced and respected sports journalists in all of America.

In late December, Bisher wrote a column which began by stating “The following is a legitimate message I received from a trustworthy journalist...It’s the Tiger-Elin incident finally put into reliable form.”

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Bisher went on to discuss how on Thanksgiving night Woods’s wife Elin hit him across the face with a nine-iron, knocking out his front teeth and fracturing his cheekbone.  

According to Bisher’s “sources”, Woods was briefly treated in an Orlando hospital before immediately flying to Arizona where he underwent extensive plastic surgery on his face.  This, Bisher states, was the reason why Woods did not meet with police in the days following his accident and why he had not been seen in public. 

As far-fetched as the story sounded, we had no reason not to believe one of the most well-respected sports journalists in the country.  

Not even five hours after Bisher published his article, the Florida Highway Patrol released a statement saying that they did indeed meet personally with Woods three days after the accident, and aside from a slightly swollen lip, Woods face appeared to be fine.

Unless $1 billion can buy you one of James Cameron’s avatars, Bisher’s story was less than accurate at best.

Then we come to last Thursday’s journalistic debacle in South Florida.

NY Post journalist Mark Cannizzaro wrote an article stating that two separate sources from inside the golf community told him that Woods has hired former presidential adviser, Ari Fleisher to help him plot his return, which Cannizzaro said will be at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Less than six hours later, Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press published a story stating that according to his sources Woods will not be returning to golf before the Masters.

Larry Dorman of the New York Times also reported on Friday that Woods “will not return to competition before the Masters tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in mid-April, according to two people with knowledge of his comeback plans.”

Needless to say, at least one writer is dead wrong on this issue.

Woods obviously cannot make his much anticipated return to golf at two separate events.

Although the NY Post can have a gossipy tinge to it, the paper is still one of the three major newspapers in the New York area, and Cannizzaro is a very well-respected writer.  The Associated Press and the New York Times are of course two of the world’s most well-respected news outlets.

It’s understandable why all journalists—mainstream and tabloid alike—are desperate to break a story on when and where Woods will return to professional golf.

They are more than likely facing pressure from their superiors because any news about Tiger Woods is huge news, and as a result, sells newspapers, creates website traffic, etc.

Sports journalists are competitive by nature. Each journalist wants to be the one to break the big story, and in the case of a subject that is garnering worldwide attention, such as Tiger Woods, it can truly make a journalist’s career.

But that line in the sand that used to separate mainstream and tabloid journalism is now being approached and in some cases even crossed by mainstream journalists.

And when that line is crossed, it’s extremely difficult to go back.

When a mainstream journalist publishes blatantly wrong information, whether his sources gave him the incorrect information or not, it is very difficult to believe "breaking news" stories coming from that journalist in the future.  

How believable would an article about Woods’ return date published by Furman Bisher be right now?

How believable would Doug Ferguson and Larry Dorman be down the road if Woods were to return in two weeks at Bay Hill?

How believable would Mark Cannizzaro be in the future if the Arnold Palmer Invitational comes and goes with no Tiger Woods?

This is not tmz.com or radaronline.com we’re talking about here.  These are journalists from extremely well-respected news outlets.

Trust is something that can be built over time, but it can also disappear at the drop of a hat.

The American public has always been quick to forgive.  But regaining the public’s trust is another matter all together.

Woods and his transgressions have obviously caused severe damage to his family, his sponsors and the PGA Tour. 

But a side effect of this scandal seems to be a complete elimination of that line that used to clearly seperate mainstream and tabloid journalism

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