AJR: Sloppy Tiger Woods Tabloid Coverage Seeped Into Major Publications

In the media frenzy that has lately dogged professional golfer Tiger Woods, some of the tabloids that covered Woods’ alleged extramarital affairs failed to conduct proper due diligence. That’s not surprising in and of itself. But what may come as a shock is just how flimsy some of the stories were, and how far they penetrated into supposedly more serious news outlets.

Peter Farhi’s “Lost in the Woods” takes particular issue with British tabloid News of the World‘s story “Tiger Had Me in the Rough,” which featured a detailed account by Florida restaurant manager Mindy Lawton:

Most suspicious were some of Lawton’s direct quotes; she referred to Woods as a “sportsman” and a parking lot as a “car park,” British locutions unlikely to have been uttered by a Florida restaurant manager. It didn’t help the story’s credibility that it was published by the News of the World, one of Britain’s racier tabloids, which often pays sources for stories. (The paper did not respond to a request for comment about the story.)

Farhi goes on to note that the story was picked up by The Orlando Sentinel, the Miami Herald and the Chicago Sun-Times, as well as the “Today” show.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Farhi points out that crucial facts of the story — such as the circumstances of Woods’ car crash (Woods has denied the commonly accepted domestic-abuse explanation), the number of Woods’ mistresses, and whether Woods was addicted to painkillers — have not been sufficiently investigated. (By the way, Farhi attributes propagation of the painkiller angle to then – Daily Beast reporter Gerald Posner. You might remember him for other reasons.)

Farhi goes on to name a litany of outlets, including The Boston Globe, CBS and NBC, that credulously reported an increasing volume of accounts of Woods’ infidelities and troubles. He suggests that the apparent degradation of standards surrounding the Woods story marks occasion for the journalism community to do some soul-searching:

The Tiger Woods extravaganza suggests that the mainstream media’s standards “have gotten a lot shabbier,” says Stephen Hess, a Brookings Institution scholar who has watched the press while working for four presidential administrations. “You’re slipping.”

AJR link via Romenesko.