From Tiger to pussycat

by Mike Johnson [email protected]

Mike Johnson is a freelance journalist who worked in the Algarve for more than 20 years. He now lives in Plymouth in the UK and comments on world topics which fascinate him.

I don’t know about you, but I usually feel uncomfortable when watching someone appear on television to make either an apology or confession, or to reveal their ‘human’ side.

Recently there have been two such occasions – firstly from the world’s number one golfer, Tiger Woods, following unsavoury revelations about his private life. The other was from the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who has been accused of bullying his staff.

The media had a field day covering the misdeeds of Tiger Woods. They came to light after his beautiful Norwegian wife chased him out of their house and smashed a golf club through a window of his Cadillac car. A newspaper story had appeared in November 2009 claiming that he had been having an affair with a 34-year old night club hostess. It later transpired that he had allegedly had affairs with at least 11 other women. Woods withdrew from tournaments at which he’d be expected to appear and kept a low profile for the next three months.

It was then announced that he was to make a televised public statement – not a press conference you will note, so there would be no media presence or questions asked. So, when he appeared, it was in front of a small hand-picked audience at a golf clubhouse in Florida.

He looked uneasy from the start, his eyes constantly shifting from left to right, and he read a prepared statement in front of him. In the course of the 13-minute statement, he said the word ‘sorry’ many times.  He apologised to his wife, who was not present incidentally, his mother, his wife’s family, his friends and to “kids all around the world who admired me”.

He said: “I lost touch with the Buddhist teachings of my youth. What I did is unacceptable and I am the only person to blame.” By way of justification for his conduct, he said: “I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me.”

What an outrageous statement from a sporting role model. After revealing that he was receiving therapy “so that I can save the things that are most important to me – my marriage and my children.”

There was no mention of resuming his golfing career, although he must have known he would probably lose the support of his major sponsors, such as Nike and Gillette. He did apologise to his fellow professionals, saying he “should have treated the game with the respect it deserves.”

He also found time to berate the media over its pursuit of his family – probably the only occasion  at which there was any hint of emotion. The whole thing seemed so contrived, so stage-managed, his delivery so wooden and unemotional that one wondered if it was all to save a career rather than a life. One correspondent described his delivery as “like an old-fashioned speak-your-weight machine”.

Tiger Woods is not a media-friendly figure. He rarely makes spontaneous comment. Maybe that’s why press reaction to this TV appearance ranged from the apathetic to the hostile. His fellow professionals were, on the whole, sympathetic and felt he had done enough to answer his critics. For my part, it had been a highly-professional PR exercise, designed to restore public faith in a flawed idol. I doubt, though, whether this tiger will ever again be king of the jungle.

Bully Brown

On the other hand, the popularity of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown appears to be on the up.

He took over from an unpopular Tony Blair in 2007 with considerable public goodwill on his side. This was comparatively short-lived, however, as the global economic down-turn came along. People lost jobs, money was tight, our troops were being killed in Afghanistan and this winter saw whole communities being cut off by the snow – although none of these could fairly have been laid at his door.

Amid all this came accusations that the Prime Minister had been ‘bullying’ ministers and staff in Downing Street. It was said that he flew into rages, threw equipment at them and generated an atmosphere of terror. This was new. We knew he was grumpy and scowled a lot when things weren’t going his way, but this seemed acceptable given the pressures of high office. Spokesmen at No. 10 denied the stories and, somewhere along the line, it was suggested that he should give a series of media interviews to try and counter the allegations. The Conservative leader, David Cameron, had undertaken a number of similar appearances, trying to portray himself as a family man who cared about the ‘common people’, rather than as the ‘old-Etonian toff’ who was on a level above them.

The highlight of these appearances was a peak-time TV interview with Piers Morgan, an ex-Fleet Street editor and a close friend of the Prime Minister. In it, Brown admitted to being grumpy but insisted that this only happened when things he wanted to accomplish were thwarted. Asked why he had agreed to the interview, he said it was “important that people know who you are…I’m an open book as far as people are concerned.”

He went on to talk about the death of his prematurely-born daughter, Jennifer, and it was a highly emotional moment when his eyes moistened. “She would have been nine this year,” he revealed. “This is the happiest time of your life and suddenly it becomes the most grief-stricken.” Was this stage-managed? I can’t believe it was. It was pure tragedy.

In a later interview with Sky News, Brown answered accusations by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, that Downing Street had unleashed “the forces of hell” against him after he had forecast that Britain was facing the worst depression in 60 years, in a speech in 2008. The Prime Minister defended himself by saying he had never bullied anyone. “I get angry sometimes, doesn’t everybody?” On reflection, this was probably the result of ‘spinning’ by Downing Street insiders who, for years, have resorted to such tactics.

Rather than portraying Brown in a bad light, all this seems to have resonated with the public in a favourable way. At the time of writing, some opinion polls suggest that the government could actually win the next General Election, generally expected to be on May 6, whereas, at the peak of their unpopularity, they were some 20 points behind the Conservatives. Maybe we prefer a grumpy but human pussycat, who cares about getting things done. Learn a lesson Tiger.