NEW YORK – Across the media landscape, time stopped for 13 1/2 minutes Friday as Tiger Woods took a swing at getting out of the rough with an extraordinary video apology for his sexual escapades, telecast around the world.
Dozens of broadcast networks, cable news outlets and online streams carried his scripted statement live, allowing a global audience to see and hear from Woods for the first time since his public image went into free fall nearly three months ago.
Viewers by the millions paused to watch and listen as the golf great spoke from the clubhouse at the TPC Sawgrass, home of the PGA Tour, in Ponte Vedra, Fla. Meanwhile, news anchors, TV pundits and morning show hosts sat ready to pounce with their reviews.
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos called the speech “one of the most remarkable public apologies ever by a public figure.”
“He (Tiger) left nothing on the table,” Stephanopoulos said. “This is a man who has thought a lot about what he did.”
Rick Cerrone, former New York Yankees public relations director, disagreed. “What I saw was arrogance. … It was basically an infomercial,” he said on CNN.
“I think he was very genuine in his responses and his statement,” Debert Cook, publisher of African American Golfer’s Digest, said on BBC News 24 television in London. “I think we are entering a whole new era spiritually and emotionally for Tiger Woods. There’s always going to be the doubters out there but I think we have to take him at his word and watch his actions.”
CBS’ David Feherty, who has covered Woods on the circuit, said, “I have never seen him appear so vulnerable. … I was very impressed with what he said.”
“The vast number of people just want their Tiger Woods back,” Feherty said.
Covering Woods’ appearance were networks as far-flung as the Golf Channel and business network CNBC (which had a digital countdown clock on the screen beforehand and dubbed Woods’ remarks his “Media Culpa”).
It was unusual for such a broad swath of TV outlets to hand several minutes of precious airtime to any public figure with a message to peddle, no questions asked.
On the other hand, Woods’ message was short, dramatic and – no matter if you bought his remorse or not – gripping when he declared, “I was unfaithful, I had affairs, I cheated. What I did is not acceptable, and I am the only person to blame.”
For many of the networks – especially cable news and sports-oriented ESPN – his news-making confessional was a welcome rallying point, rich grist for the mill for such talk-dominated TV. It promised to fuel hours of fresh debate on All Things Tiger, a favorite sport since Woods ran his SUV over a fire hydrant and into a tree outside his Florida home on Nov. 27. The resulting scandal has imperiled Woods’ towering status as an athlete and commercial brand.
Moreover, in the Western United States, Woods’ appearance was perfectly timed for the major broadcast networks, whose morning news shows were airing at that hour. (NBC was covering the Winter Olympics.)
The stock market slowed at 11 a.m. as traders watched Woods’ remarks. Volume on the New York Stock Exchange leveled off, then picked up momentum after he fell silent.
But the fact that Woods’ remarks were scheduled on a workday meant many viewers in the U.S. were following from their offices in front of computer screens.
Live streaming online has become more commonplace for big, daytime events since President Barack Obama’s inauguration.
Though of considerably less historical importance, nearly as many Web sites offered up live streaming of Woods’ apology. Among those who streamed it live were CBS News in partnership with UStream, Hulu.com (which is co-owned by NBC Universal, Fox Entertainment and ABC Inc.), YouTube’s Citizen Tube, CNN.com and many others. The Associated Press streamed it by way of Livestream.com.
Other TV outlets where Woods didn’t make the cut, such as BET, streamed his remarks on their Web site.
As might be expected, ESPN had the most robust multimedia coverage. The Walt Disney Co.-owned cable network had the broadcast not only on ESPN, ESPNEWS and ESPN2, but also on ESPN.com, ESPN radio and ESPN Mobile.
The network’s previous most notable foray into video news was when it quickly streamed its interview with Alex Rodriguez – another megastar making a mea culpa – on ESPN.com just as it was airing on its flagship network.
Though Woods’ apology was carefully orchestrated, online chatter – which has not been kind to the golfer since the scandal broke – was dramatically messier. A popular thread on Twitter was what “tigershouldve” said. The suggestions were overwhelmingly sarcastic and full of vulgar puns.
In the middle of Woods’ apology, the Onion promptly posted a story headlined: “Tiger Woods Announces Return to Sex.” Bill Simmons, a popular sports columnist for ESPN.com, tweeted: “I can’t believe Nike killed Tiger and replaced him with a robot.”
Woods was the most popular topic charted by Google Trends. The majority of the most popular topics on Twitter were Woods-related, including “Buddhist” as users reacted to Woods’ saying Buddhism was helping him through his troubles.
Many sites, such as the blog Deadspin, encouraged viewer feedback. The Huffington Post gave viewers the chance to vote on how Woods handled himself: hole in one, par for the course or a double bogey.