Paul Thomas: Why chase is on for Tiger

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If there was a celebrity anywhere in the western world who hadn't grasped that fame is now a Faustian pact with the media, the Tiger Woods fiasco has surely set them straight.

In the German legend which has inspired much creative output, Dr Faust is a restless intellectual who sells his soul to the devil in return for knowledge.

These days it works like this: media coverage extends a celebrity's profile beyond their core field of endeavour, thus enabling them to multiply their earning power by in effect becoming a brand.

In return they give up the right to privacy and accept that the media will highlight their transgressions with as much, if not more, zeal as it celebrates their looks, talent, and achievements.

It's been a long time coming.

The credo of Anglo-Canadian press baron Lord Beaverbrook, whose influence was at its zenith in the inter-war years, was "Kiss'em one day and kick'em the next."

As Rudyard Kipling famously observed, this amounted to power without responsibility, "the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages."

Kipling's cousin Stanley Baldwin, who served three terms as British prime minister, recycled these words when warning of the growing power of newspaper proprietors. Obviously no one was listening.

The reporting of this minor traffic accident contains an undercurrent of flabbergasted rage at Woods' reluctance to play by the rules.

Despite being the richest and most famous athlete on the planet, his strategy has been to say as little as possible and invoke his right to privacy.

The media's insistence that he has no such right has taken some interesting forms.

For instance, there was the suggestion that by endorsing products and appearing alongside other superstars in a global advertising campaign he has somehow made himself public property.

There was the feigned concern that his image and therefore income will suffer unless he makes a clean breast of it. A columnist in a British broadsheet warned, or perhaps threatened, that "this isn't going to go away until we've got answers to these questions."

They included was he having an affair? Did his wife beat him up? Where was he going at 2.25am? There was the proposition, largely based on comments posted on Woods' website, that he owed it to his fans to explain his conduct.

All self-serving bunkum. The fact that people are silly enough to base their purchasing decisions on celebrity endorsements places no reciprocal responsibility on the celebrity. Their only responsibility is to fulfil the terms of their contract.

And to the so-called fans who rushed to their laptops to harangue Woods or share his pain, one can only say "Get a life."

Personally, the idea of this supposedly classy individual having a cocktail waitress on tap at every stop on the PGA tour, or reversing down his drive pursued by a Nordic ice queen wielding a 3 wood brings to mind Oscar Wilde's verdict on the death of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop - that one would have to have a heart of stone to read it without dissolving into tears ... of laughter.

We may want answers to the above questions but only out of prurience or schadenfreude, because none of it matters except to those directly affected. Whether Woods plays ball or not, the media will continue to hound him - because it's good for business - until the revelations dry up and the story loses its legs. Then it will be someone else's turn.

In our little pond that someone might well be Jesse Ryder, on the face of it the polar opposite of the supremely disciplined and focused Woods, but who might yet turn out to be the better behaved of the two.

Ryder's various scrapes have made him a cult hero and probably done more to promote cricket in the bogan community than any number of overblown marketing campaigns.

But they've also made him a running story, a hefty male version of Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan: the wayward star whose next self-destructive act is awaited with bated breath.

All celebrity journalism is ultimately tabloid and the guiding principle of tabloid journalism is that if you haven't got a good story, manufacture one.

Hence the Dominion-Post's recent front page story, based on the unsubstantiated say-so of a neighbour, portraying Jesse's place as a Lower Hutt version of the Delta Fraternity in Animal House.

The day this story appeared a sports columnist wrote of Ryder's run-in with the Black Caps' manager: "The suspicion persists that once Ryder returns, we'll already be counting down to the next debacle."

Put money on it. Between them, Ryder and the media will find a way to make it happen.

- NZ Herald

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