Fantastic article in American Journalism Review on the shoddy Tiger Woods coverage. Here’s a few good bits:
For all its lurid aspects, the Woods scandal may have constituted a watershed in American journalism: A major news story in which many “respectable” news outlets ditched traditional newsgathering methods and standards of fair play and piggybacked on aggressive but not always accurate tabloid reporting. The distinction between “mainstream” and “tabloid” may never have been so blurred as it was in the whirlwind of reporting on Woods…
… Was Woods addicted to painkillers at the time of his accident? Gerald Posner, The Daily Beast’s chief investigative reporter, suggested as much, without substantiation, and CBS’ “The Early Show” and NBC’s “Today” show invited Posner on to repeat the claim. Did Woods offer his wife some kind of financial inducement for her silence and continued matrimony? Yes, said numerous news sources (the Chicago Sun-Times, US Weekly, the New York Post, the Boston Globe, Posner again on The Daily Beast), although there was little agreement about how much she would supposedly earn (anywhere from $5 million to $80 million). Was the couple leaving the country and moving to Sweden? Foxnews.com said so. Was Nordegren about to file for divorce? Dozens of news organizations vouched for it, with some sources claiming the filing would occur by the end of the year. Yet Woods and Nordegren remain in the United States, and no divorce action has been launched.
The wildest and most unsupported claims involved the number and identity of Woods’ mistresses. Some media outlets–the Orlando Sentinel, New York’s Daily News, the Philadelphia Daily News, Toronto’s Globe & Mail and dozens of others–kept a running tally, periodically adding names and photos as the women surfaced, based on little more than the women’s say-so or the word of anonymous sources. The list eventually grew to include two porn actresses, whose motivation for being associated with such a high-profile sex scandal was never seriously questioned…
… [National Enquirer Editor] Levine finds himself surprised, appalled and somewhat amused by the way much of the mainstream media handled the Woods scandal. The Enquirer’s original story, he notes, took months of reporting. It involved many hours of interviews, polygraph tests, stakeouts, document dives and travel. It was checked and re-checked. But many members of the MSM, he notes, exercised no such care in reporting subsequent aspects of the story. “It would have taken us a couple of years to properly investigate each of these women’s claims as thoroughly as we did the first” woman’s, Levine says. “The stories were all over the place. There was just some outrageous coverage.”
That’s right. The editor of the National Enquirer doesn’t think much of the way the “respectable” media covered Tiger Woods. Anyone paying close attention would concur that he has a point. It might be that the biggest scandal to come out of the Woods affair wasn’t the one about a golfer. It was the one about the news media.
We need to stress to today’s journalists that it’s OK to be late on a story — as long as you’re late for a good reason. Fact-checking allegations and verifying sources is always a good reason.