What Tiger Woods can learn from John Gotti
— Charles S. Feldman is a journalist, media consultant and co-author of the book, “No Time To Think-The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle.” The views expressed are his own. —
Tiger Woods is taking a beating.
No, I’m not referring to the tabloid suggestions that the golf superstar’s facial injuries were the result of spousal retribution rather than bad driving technique; I’m talking about the pummeling he is getting from the media following the tortuously slow revelations about his reportedly supercharged libido. By some media counts, Tiger may have had as many as ten—count them, ten—mistresses. More of a harem, if you ask me.
Which brings me to John Gotti. Yes, that John Gotti, the now dead former godfather of what is almost cozily referred to as the Gambino organized crime family in New York City.
It occurs to me there is much Woods can learn about how to win back the hearts, if not the minds, of the media from the deceased don.
Gotti, of course, was a cold-blooded killer who died in a federal prison. But before he was finally convicted, the “Teflon Don” — Gotti earned the nickname by repeatedly walking away from criminal trials a free man — enjoyed almost fawning press coverage. In large measure this was because Gotti, or his “advisers”, knew how to play the media — some might argue for fools, but play them he most certainly did.
As a young reporter covering one of Gotti’s several trials, a particular incident stands out. The Queens-based mafia chieftain, clad in camel-colored cashmere, walked past several half-awakened homeless people camped outside the courthouse on a frigid Manhattan morning. With a multitude of television camera crews in tow, he flipped them crisp one hundred dollar bills. Now that is a great publicity stunt.
What Gotti understood, albeit at some primitive level, is that the news media abhor a vacuum and that if you don’t face them on your own terms, they will create the terms for you.
Tiger Woods has gone almost over-night from a role-model to the butt of Saturday Night Live sketches. And, it is totally his fault.
In his only public comments about his car accident and what he refers to as his “transgressions,” Woods says that “no matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake, which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy.”
First, it took Woods way too long to post his statement, allowing the news media, especially TMZ.com, to define the parameters of the “crisis” for him. The delay also left ample time for damaging leaks about his alleged former and/or current sexual liaisons.
But I fundamentally beg to differ with Woods when he goes on to say in his statement, “Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn’t have to mean public confessions.”
Woods long ago abdicated a large degree of whatever it is that, in this day and age of Facebook and Twitter, passes for privacy. He belongs to the public and uses his public persona to generate lots of revenue in the form of product endorsements. Like it or not, he owes it to the public and his fans to set the record straight.
As a reporter, I’ve covered the falling from grace of countless politicians, celebrities and even corporations. As a media consultant, I have advised many on how to best deal with a crisis — usually of their own making — that threatens or has already spun out of control.
The first thing Woods did wrong was refuse to comment. “No comments”, rightly or wrongly, are red flags to the news media and are interpreted as admissions of guilt. You can argue whether that should be the case, but that is just the way it is.
So, Tiger’s website comments were too few and too late. He was so far behind the curve on this one that by the time he posted his statement, the news media were already delving into other corners of his love life.
Ridiculing the public’s appetite for information was also not a good idea. By challenging the public’s curiosity, he all but guaranteed the public’s continuing interest — and yes, the news media represent the public on such things.
Instead, Woods should have issued a brief statement offering his apologies to his family and to his fans who looked up to him and clearly felt betrayed. Woods should have then followed up, within 48 hours, at most, by holding a news conference to answer questions.
He accomplished nothing by choosing to stay silent and even canceling his participation in a California golf tournament. All that will do is postpone the day of reckoning with the news media which I guarantee will happen the first time he appears in any public forum.
If Woods feels uncomfortable using John Gotti as a public relations role model, perhaps he should take a cue from former president Clinton who resurrected his faltering presidential campaign when he first ran for office by allowing himself and Hillary to be subjected to a “60 Minutes” confessional.
Of course, there are plenty of show biz examples of how to do “confession and contrition” big-time. The best being British star Hugh Grant whose “encounter” with a prostitute on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood back in 1995 threatened to derail his then rising movie career.
Smartly, Grant went on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno where he apologized for his behavior. He told CNN’s Larry King, “I could accept some of the things that people have explained, ‘stress,’ ‘pressure,’ ‘loneliness’—that that was the reason. But that would be false. In the end, you have to come clean and say, ‘I did something dishonorable, shabby and goatish.’” Well done! Are you listening, Tiger?
If he is smart, and I think he is, I would hope to next see Tiger Woods sitting opposite one of the high priests or priestesses of network news magazine programming answering the question, “ So, Tiger, what were you thinking?”
Better still, forget the news folks, Tiger, say YES to the one person who can save your soul and product endorsement list. Of course, I am referring to non other than Oprah Winfrey. Her production company has reportedly reached out to Woods to land an exclusive interview.
If he knows what’s good for him, Tiger Woods should be on a plane right now winging his way to Oprah land, formally Chicago, to do the whole contrition thing. But with apparently ten alleged mistresses and counting, this is one act of contrition even I want to hear, and I’ve pretty much heard them all.