Op-Ed: Give Tiger The Privacy He Requests

Read John Paul Newport's piece, "The Tiger Woods Crash: Why People Even Care"

Since Tiger Woods' mysterious car crash, there has been a great deal of speculation about what caused the accident. John Paul Newport, golf columnist for The Wall Street Journal, says that the public should "give Mr. Woods and his family the privacy he requests."

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NEAL CONAN, host:

And now, the Opinion Page. By now, you've probably heard the details of the Tiger Woods crash. Just before 2:30 in the morning, last Friday, he crashed his Cadillac Escalade into a fire hydrant and then into a tree outside his home in Florida. When police arrived, Woods was lying down in the street. His wife, Elin, was with him. Since then, there's been a lot of speculation about what happened.

Woods and his wife have declined to meet police, at this point they're not required to. On Sunday, the golfer issued a statement on his Web site. This is a private matter, he wrote, and I want to keep it that way. Although I understand there is curiosity, the many false, unfounded and malicious rumors that are currently circulating about my family and me are irresponsible.

John Paul Newport, golf columnist for the Wall Street Journal says he doesn't want to know anything more. He says he wants to give Mr. Woods and his family the privacy he requests. And Newport goes on to write, I'll bet millions of others would be content to draw the curtain there, too. It really is none of our business.

Do you think we have the right to know what happened outside Tiger Woods' house on Friday morning, and why? Give us a call.800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our web site. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. John Paul Newport of the Wall Street Journal joins us from our bureau in New York. You can find a link to his column at npr.org. And nice to have you with us today on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. JOHN PAUL NEWPORT (Wall Street Journal): Great to be here.

CONAN: And this is possibly the best-known athlete in the world, possibly the richest as well. He's a brand, a public figure, why shouldn't we expect to know what happened?

Mr. NEWPORT: Well, I think we probably will know what happened eventually. It's an interesting issue about where the line between prurient interest and natural curiosity is drawn. You can't read about the story, hear about the story and not want to know what happened.

CONAN: Hmm.

Mr. NEWPORT: I think one of the reason it's created so much interest in the country is it's like the setup for a police show. You've got a celebrity, he has an accident, an inexplicable accident 50 feet from his driveway at 2:25 a.m. in the morning. I mean, where was he going? It was Friday morning after Thanksgiving. He might have been going to the mall for early line up at the Black Friday sales, but, I mean, we really don't know anything about it. He is found - police show up there as his wife, who is inevitably referred to as a former Swedish model, even though she comes from very distinguished and intellectual family. Her mother was once at the cabinet level at the Swedish government. Her father was the White House correspondent for Swedish television. But, you know, this former Swedish model is there and tells the police she shattered the back windows of his Cadillac with a golf club.

They refuse to talk to the police. Everybody puts on their Sherlock Holmes's hat, tries to figure it out. And with the Internet, the great satanic rumor mills out there, there's plenty of speculation and fodder to work with.

CONAN: Indeed, and there's going to be plenty of interest. And Mr. Woods is scheduled, I think, to hold a news conference tomorrow in California, at this golf tournament which he hosts there. No word yet on whether he's going to California, or whether he's going to hold a news conference, whether he's going to be present at the tournament or whether he's going to play. But nevertheless, he's in a business where he has to talk to reporters all the time.

Mr. NEWPORT: He's done very well himself in that business by protecting his privacy. It's interesting, he's won a hundred million dollars in official prize money, which is, you know, enough to get by on. But he's probably earned 900 million or something like that in additional monies coming from companies that pay him to attach their brand to his brand, their image to his image. That isn't probably his primary motivation. He really wants to be the best golfer in the world, but he can't ignore that part of his income. He's probably about a billionaire now.

And to this date, his - the imperative to both of those being the corporate spokesman and being the golfer have aligned pretty nicely, because he wants to concentrate on his golf when he's inside the ropes. He wants there to be no rumor, no scandal. He wants privacy and calm, so he creates this persona publicly which is what the corporations want, kind of a reliable, non-offensive, maybe non-colorful person that they can�

CONAN: Yeah, he always tells he's pretty boring, his personal life is pretty boring.

Mr. NEWPORT: Yeah, he posted that on his Web site, kind of anti-predictably, a few months ago, that the reason he and Elin don't get into the press much because they're really boring.

CONAN: Yeah, people would still like to know. Have you ever had the chance to interview him?

Mr. NEWPORT: Yes, I've had about, I think, four one-on-one interviews with him. One of them was 30 minutes, the other three were five minutes or, in one case, ten minutes. Carefully monitored, a member of his staff was standing there, sort of staring at her watch the entire time.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. NEWPORT: It's over, it's controlled. He is a control freak.

CONAN: He admits that. Are there ground rules established, just golf questions?

Mr. NEWPORT: In one case, I could only ask him about the wonder of Rolex watches.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I hope that was one of the five minute ones.

Mr. NEWPORT: That was one of the five minute ones.

CONAN: And so, yeah, there are definitely ground rules then?

Mr. NEWPORT: Yes, there are. Well, actually that was the only case there was a ground rule. There's not an official ground rule about asking about his private life. The others you could ask about anything, but you get an icy glare when you tread into certain territories. And also, interviewing him is like going up against a chess grandmaster. He is six steps ahead in trying to - an ability to avoid revealing something that he doesn't want to reveal.

CONAN: Do you think he has a reasonable expectation that if he said, look as far as I'm concerned, this is over and done with. The police don't want to ask me anything. I'm not going to tell them anything. This is a private matter, it's embarrassing. He has admitted it's embarrassing, but, you know, it's off-limits and just questions about golf, please.

Mr. NEWPORT: He has been able to get away with that up till now. I really don't think that if he shows up at this tournament this week, and I'm going to be there, whether he'll be able to get away with that. There's too much interest. He's - for the first time in his life, I think he's lost control of the story�

CONAN: Hmm.

Mr. NEWPORT: �of his story.

CONAN: This - we have to mention this comes at the same time the National Enquirer - not always the most reliable of sources, but nevertheless, is running a story that he had an affair with an Australian woman. She has apparently denied this. And that is apparently the malicious stories in the media, that may be what he's referring to.

Mr. NEWPORT: Yeah, the timing of that story, which was released two days before the fender-bender he had, certainly figures into the stories, the speculative stories that are coming out on the gossip mills.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation, 800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org. John Paul Newport is our guest. He's the golf columnist for the Wall Street Journal and, again, there's a link to his column at our Web site, npr.org. We'll start with Bill(ph). Bill with us from Atlantic City.

BILL (Caller): Yeah.

CONAN: Go ahead, Bill.

BILL: As I told your screener, he expects me to buy the car or the watch that he came into my living room to sell me on television and you can't ignore it or avoid it. He's on several channels touting Buick and Rolex and what have you. So, I think I have an interest or a verified interest in hearing what went on.

CONAN: I think his relationship with Buick is over or at least it probably was after he was found out to be driving a Cadillac�

BILL: Well, yeah, how many years did he tout it, though?

CONAN: Oh, a long time. You�

BILL: Right.

CONAN: You've got that right. John Paul, what do you think?

Mr. NEWPORT: Well, yes, I think he is being marketed as a certain sort of person, a reliable person. This incident could be nothing more than that. I think he owes the public the right to say, this is what happened and beyond that I'm not going to go. He hasn't even gotten to that point.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

BILL: Right.

CONAN: Yup. All right, Bill, thanks very much.

BILL: Okay.

CONAN: Bye, bye. Let's see if we go next to - this is Raquel(ph). Raquel with us from Berrien Springs, Michigan.

RAQUEL (Caller): Yes, hi.

CONAN: Hi.

RAQUEL: I just kind of feel like we demand too much from our celebrities. We are paying in some way or another, whether it's, you know, going to the movies or going to a golf tournament, to watch them do their thing, entertain us. Beyond that, it's none of our business, just as much as it wouldn't be our business for our neighbor. So, I think that he does have his right to privacy. Anything that's already public, of course, shouldn't privatized, that would be wrong. But I don't think that we should be sticking our noses in there. We're just feeding into our own curiosity, our own gossipiness, if you will.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. It should be noted that the name of his yacht is Privacy.

RICHEL: Oh, really?

CONAN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: He's pretty ferocious about it.

RICHEL: Oh, that's interesting. I don't blame him.

CONAN: I don't blame him either, but nevertheless, as John Paul, you were saying he - at the moment he's no longer in control.

Mr. NEWPORT: He's no longer in control. There are really two issues here. One is what he as a person has the right to. I personally don't care to know anything more than sort of the rudiments of what happened. I'd like to know that, I think we should know that.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. NEWPORT: I don't personally care about - I mean, I care, but I don't want, I don't feel like we have the right to know about anything that may have happened with another woman or his wife. That's his privacy. He is a great golfer. He has never tried to be anything other than that. He wants to be a great golfer. There's the other issue though of the strategy he is using. Whether that is really the best strategy in the end for himself and his privacy and his family, and certainly whether it's the best strategy for his corporate sponsors.

CONAN: And you've spoken with - and by the way, Raquel, thanks very much for the call. You've spoken with some people who are, I guess, damage control specialists and all of them were unanimous.

Mr. NEWPORT: Unanimous that this is - he is not pursuing the right strategy. Everybody I've talked to says he should get the - whatever news there is that may be damaging, may not be, we don't know, out there as soon as possible, take his lumps and move on. Put it behind him. If he does that, the people are forgiving, there are plenty of precedents of athletes that have done that and have rehabilitated their careers, if indeed his career will need rehabilitating. But, if he doesn't do that he will be chased down, he will be hounded until I think I wrote, you know, he is up in a tree or there is blood on the ground.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. NEWPORT: There is no question about it. And that's going to be, I think, more damaging in the end to him and his family and his reputation than just trying to say, I deserve my privacy, you know, stay out.

CONAN: And even if it's totally innocuous, of course, he can give the story, you know, I was just dumb. But if there is something less than positive there he would also, I would assume these experts say, be well advised to say it all first.

Mr. NEWPORT: To control the story. That seems to be what works. I will say this, Tiger has defied traditional public relations practices before and has done well for himself. There may be details, reasons he is doing what he is doing that we don't know about.

CONAN: We're talking with John Paul Newport, a golf columnist at The Wall Street Journal on the Opinion Page this week. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Let's go next to Bryan(ph). Bryan with us from Barrington in Rhode Island.

BRYAN (Caller): Hi, I think that we probably don't have a right to know because (unintelligible). But I think police have a right to know if there is a domestic abuse issue in question. And I wonder, would they be quite so understanding of his unwillingness to talk if it was a man potentially abusing a women?

CONAN: You're talking about the lip - the cuts he had on his face?

BRYAN: Yes, and the car, the back windows of the car being smashed and�

CONAN: Not the�

BRYAN: �I wonder if it was a man potentially guilty of that, would the police be allowing him not to talk?

CONAN: It's unclear. The police have said thus far that there is - been no crime committed. And therefore, he is not required to speak with them. And if nobody is making an allegation of domestic abuse, I'm not sure�

BRYAN: Yeah.

CONAN: �that comes into it. I think that they may be at the point of asking for his medical records. He did check into the hospital for a short period of time.

BRYAN: Yeah.

CONAN: And at that point they may be looking for probable cause to then ask him for something. But in any case, all those records - John Paul Newport, if he doesn't get out the story it's all going to be getting out in places like the National Enquirer and TMZ and other such sites.

Mr. NEWPORT: That's the problem. That's the problem, exactly.

CONAN: And AP is now reporting that Tiger Woods will not be playing in this week's challenge tournament. I'm not sure they are saying whether he is going to go or not. He is the host of this event. So, I hope you got refundable tickets, John Paul.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NEWPORT: I'll find something to do out there.

CONAN: I'm sure you will. Now let's see if we can go next to - this is Raymond(ph). Raymond with us from Lake Worth in Florida.

RAYMOND (Caller): Yeah, hi, it's a great program. It's a privilege to be able to speak.

CONAN: Oh, thank you.

RAYMOND: I think that the mater that we have in front of us is one of those where the media is taking full advantage of it to make and sell their product. The man has a right to his own privacy and not only that, if we have an accident, a motor vehicle accident, police will intervene only in what refers to the accident. But he has nothing else to do. And if we do have the accident that will not go in the paper, that will not go anywhere. So, I really don't see the point of us going into this inquest trying to find out something more.

CONAN: Okay, Raymond, thanks very much. Appreciate it. And thanks for the kind words. Here is a statement we now have off the Associated Press from Tiger Woods from his official Web site, quote, �I am extremely disappointed I will not be at my tournament this week.� So apparently he is not even going. So that's the case there. And John Paul, I guess the other question is, I guess eventually we'll find out what did happen, how much is this going to be a distraction? How much is this going to affect the game of the greatest golfer in the world?

Mr. NEWPORT: That's a very good question. I think going forward he is going to have a great mental challenge to focus the way he has focused in the past, at least for the first few months in reappearances, whenever those are. Golf is such a fickle game. When you have a argument with your wife before you play, you can't play as well. If you have distracting rumors going on, questions, even somebody as great as Tiger Woods is vulnerable to that.

One of the great - greatest maybe under-appreciated parts of his genius is his ability to be under the scrutiny and to have performed as well as he has. Jack Nicklaus says that's the thing he admires most about this. This scrutiny though, now, is gonna become more personal, perhaps more hurtful. He's been able to control his world. Now he's going to be in less control of it and it will be very interesting to see how that affects his game.

CONAN: Yeah, up till now the biggest controversy is a few curse words when he makes a bad shot.

Mr. NEWPORT: He is a competitor.

CONAN: Yeah�

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We've noticed that. John Paul Newport, thank you very much for your time today.

Mr. NEWPORT: You're welcome. I love to be here.

CONAN: John Paul Newport is the golf columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He is also the author of �The Fine Green Line,� and joined us today from our bureau in New York.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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