The Washington Post


Mar 01, 2010

Washington Post staff writer and columnist Howard Kurtz takes your comments about the media and press coverage of the news. Today: Tiger, Toyota and the imperfect art of the apology

I know you've been pushing for Tiger to do a public apology because you think it would help, but the more pressing question isn't whether it will have an effect but whether it should. Why do people crave "authenticity" from their athletes? Should they? Is the media circus over this brouhaha called for? It's not enough just to say the story has viewers, that people are interested. People's interest can be manipulated, and the relevant question is whether the media is manipulating their interest in a productive way. Personally, I'd enjoy less analysis of how successful people are at navigating the game and more analysis of the existence of the game itself. I understand that Tiger taking a few questions would help his image; I think it's sick that such a meaningless act would do so.

  It's been a media circus, no question about it, but Tiger is one of the most famous people on the planet, was a major corporate endorser, and golf's TV ratings have plummeted during his absence. Eventually, if the man wants to play again, he's going to have to take questions, and it's going to be a huge distraction from whatever tournament he's playing in. If he were to do an interview before his inevitable comeback, then the next time his personal life comes up he can say "I've already dealt with that" or some such formulation. Not that that will stop journalists from asking.

From today's health care story: "...Nancy-Ann DeParle said on Sunday she thinks Democrats will secure enough ayes on the measure and signaled that the administration could be moving toward trying to pass it along party lines." So the House bill passed with 1 Republican vote, and the Senate bill passed with no Republicans votes. And according to Kornblut, now the administration "could be" moving towards passing a party line bill? They've been trying to pass a party line bill for the last 6 months! I can't decide if this is sloppy or biased. What do you think, Howard?

  Actually, it's 100 percent accurate. No one held out much hope that the Blair House summit would lead to a bipartisan approach, but Obama decided to play that card. Kornblut's story doesn't suggest that the Democrats didn't pass the previous legislation on party-line votes. Rather, the question is whether they will use reconciliation to make "fixes" to the bill with 51 votes. A month ago, that seemed unlikely; now it's become the preferred strategy. In fact, it may be the only possible strategy the Democrats can use at this point.

It has been reported that tens of people have been let go by CBS. Do people such as Couric with multimillion dollar salaries feel a any sense of compassion to these people and offer to take a pay cut to keep some of these positions. When Couric and others report on high CEO salaries and low wages of ordinary workers in corporations, how do they reconcile the fact that CBS is no different from a big Bank or manufacturing company which treat its stars differently?

  Tens of people? Anyone who lets go tens of people in the current media environment is quite fortunate. ABC News just offered buyouts that it hopes will lead to the elimination of 300 to 400 jobs.

   The question about huge anchor salaries is a fair one, but it's not fair to hang it on Katie.  She took what CBS was offering to lure her from NBC; the $15 million a year was what the market will bear. Don't assume that Brian Williams and Diane Sawyer make drastically less than that. As the networks' business model erodes, anchors may have to accept fewer millions of dollars while their organizations stay afloat; the same goes (with lower numbers) for local anchors in this era of cutbacks.

Bill Simmons of ESPN has written extensively about the Tiger Woods drama in recent weeks. He makes a great point that his "vacation" from the PGA Tour might be the most famous sports haitus ever - including Ali's expulsion from boxing in the 1960s. Maybe you can help settle a bar bet? I don't think anyone can seriously compare Ali to Woods when it comes to making an impact on popular culture. Woods has elevated a second-tier sport such as golf into Must-See TV, is/was the most marketable commodity on Fifth Avenue and has gotten to meet the president a number of times. Ali, on the other hand, missed a few boxing matches, was despised by most of the country for his stance against the Vietnam War and was a member of a radical organization. Is it safe to say that Woods has had a greater impact on society than any athlete since Jackie Robinson?

  This is sort of like deciding who's the best quarterback of the last 60 years. I think you're underestimating the importance of Ali (who was admired as well as reviled for his stance on Vietnam). He was a huge cultural figure, a man of global fame and strong opinions, as well as the first major figure to shed his American name, Cassius Clay.  I don't know that Woods has had a greater impact on society, except that he rose to fame and record-breaking play in what had been a largely white sport. Jackie Robinson remains the most seminal figure, though, because he paved the way for the integration of baseball and ultimately other major-league sports.

So why do I need an apology from Tiger? I couldn't care less what he does off the golf course, he never made a promise to me for anything. Or to anybody else except his wife. To her, he owes more than an apology; to the rest of us, he owes nothing. This idea because we see him in our living rooms on the tv, that we have some ownership must stop. We don't own any of the celebrities on our television set.

 I'm sure many people feel the same way. But keep in mind that Tiger made $100 million a year in corporate endorsements by using the media to promote an image as a good family man. Even if Tiger's fans (and they are split) don't care about his private life, he needs to rehabilitate his image if he wants to again become a pitchman for the likes of AT&T and Accenture.

As a Canadian, I liked these Olympic Games. For once, a resurgence of nationalism hasn't been created by a beer commercial.

  I was rooting for the U.S. team in yesterday's hockey final, especially when the Americans scored that last-minute goal to force overtime. But I knew that a win would be a much bigger deal for Canada and whoever scored the winning goal would be celebrated in a way that would not happen in this country.

  But I must confess it is harder to get worked up about two teams stocked with NHL players than it was when only amateurs could compete in the Olympics.

Why haven't Sarah Palin and the Tea Baggers attracted Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and American Indians to their ranks? Democrats and even Republicans have. The visuals for Palin and the Tea Baggers are devoid of meaningful minority images. Is this intentional or is dealing with race a challenge for them? I feel diversity and tolerance are strengths of America and that successful movements don't have the luxury of selecting the storybook America they'd prefer in launching themselves nationally. Purity of their ranks as your colleague Paul Kane asserted in his chat recently seems like a big red flag to me and being blind to the country's demographic trends.

  The Tea Party movement does seem to be overwhelmingly white. But it's a grass-roots movement that has attracted people with different agendas, united mainly by their frustration with Washington and with Obama. The demographic makeup isn't dictated by any top-down management structure, and certainly not by Palin, who has catered to the Tea Party but is hardly the organizing force behind it.

Really offended that NBC cut away early from the Closing Ceremony in order to debut their over-hyped Seinfeld POS. Someone reported that NBC ran the rest at 11:35 PM, but NBC made no mention of it when they cut away at 10L30 PM EST.

 I didn't see it, but NBC paid a huge sum of money to carry the Olympics. I'm hardly shocked that the network would want to exploit the promotional opportunities, especially once the athletic competition was over. But this Seinfeld show doesn't seem to be getting very good advance reviews.

Good afternoon Mr. Kurtz! Have you seen the iPad? I read the WaPo website on one over the weekend, and I could see buying an annual subscription, say for $50, to read paper our here in the Great Midwest. Maybe that may save the papers yet?

  You must have an in. The iPad hasn't been publicly released yet, so I have not laid my fingers on one.

  Still, I don't see it as the salvation of the print media. Apple will get most of the profits, though I suppose news organizations could cut deals where they will get a slice. I have no doubt that the Web and mobile phones and Kindles and iPads are the future (see my column item today on people using multiple platforms to get their news), but I think we have to be more creative about providing provocative and relevant content, regardless of how folks get it.

It was uncharacteristic of a Japanese CEO to testify live in front of Congress and the American public. Do you think Toyoda's performance was ground-breaking (i.e. expect more Japanese corporate titans to do the same in the future) or do you think it was just a one-time attempt?

  I don't expect a repeat performance because the circumstances are fairly unique. What other Japanese company is as important to the American economy and touches as many people here as Toyota, Honda and Nissan? Plus, we're talking about defective cars that in some cases have killed people, not defective TVs with lousy HD. Akio Toyoda may have paved the way, but it's not a path many Japanese CEOs are going to be anxious to follow.

I had never heard of the Coffee Party until last week. Does this movement look like it has legs and may challenge the Tea Party?

 At the moment, it seems a Facebook-fueled movement organized by a woman in her Silver Spring, Md., apartment. So I don't even think it's on the radar screen yet. A WP article describes its goals as to "promote civility and inclusiveness in political discourse, engage the government not as an enemy but as the collective will of the people, push leaders to enact the progressive change for which 52.9 percent of the country voted in 2008." That's pretty general. And "civil discourse" may not be the best rallying cry for mobilizing millions.

You understand that curling got higher ratings than Keith did? Do you regularly watch TV shows and tweet about them?

 Sure. Curling was a surprise hit (though I confess that its appeal eludes me). That's why the likes of Chris Matthews and Ed Schultz kept getting preempted on MSNBC. But the closing ceremonies are in a different category, at least to me.

Lindsay Vonn won a gold medal and a bronze (no small achievement), but NBC treated her like Michael Phelps, interviewing or talking about her every single night of the games. Again, every single night! Yes, she's a great athlete, but it seemed a bit excessive. I know NBC focuses on American athletes to the exclusion of those from other countries, and that's fine (Canadian coverage was even more jingoistic). But to focus so much on one athlete seemed a bit much.

  Television tries to drum up interest in the Olympics by turning a handful of star athletes into personalities, complete with the backstory of their families, past triumphs and tragedies and so on. I doubt most Americans could have picked Lindsey Vonn out of a lineup a month ago, but she was one of those anointed by the media machinery. It probably didn't hurt that she (and some other U.S. women in the Vancouver games) posed for Sports Illustrated in skimpy bikinis.

The player that scored the winning goal in overtime is named Sidney Crosby. Born and raised in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia (yes, spelled with a "u"), he is also the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who won the Stanley Cup this year.

 Right. Even casual hockey fans know who he is. But it's striking to me that NHL teams give up some of their best athletes for the Olympics in the middle of the season.

Why didn't anyone, with the exception of a few moments on CNN, talk about this on the Sunday news shows? I think regular people living on the edge of an economic cliff are more interested in whether unemployment benefits are going to get extended than they are in the insider garbage like the who the next White House social director is going to be. Arrgghh!

  Senator Bunning's maneuver to delay the extension of unemployment benefits has gotten a fair amount of coverage on cable, online and in print. I'm surprised it wasn't part of the Sunday chatter, especially given the obscenity he uttered when challenged.

I heard the Republicans say alot about starting over, etc. Not that it would happen, but what would be the difference this time around?

 It would take forever and nothing would get done this year.  The two parties are on Mars and Venus when it comes to health care reform. It's been a top Democratic priority for decades (see Hillarycare, 1994) and a low Republican one (the Bush administration did almost nothing except pass a big Medicare drug benefit that wasn't paid for). So the chances that the two sides could come together quickly on a stripped-down bill is probably remote.

What happened to the Post's Fact Check feature?

  The one with the Pinocchios? That was a creature of the presidential campaign. We still run articles that amount to fact checks, but I haven't seen a graphic feature of that type since 2008.

This is so, so tangential and unimportant, but it's killing me: why does Akio Toyoda spell his last name with a D when the car name is spelled with a T?

 It's killing you? Really?

 Several media outlets have explained that what was once the Toyoda Motor Co. changed its name decades ago. Apparently it takes 10 brush strokes to write Toyoda in Japanese but only eight to write Toyota, and eight is considered a lucky number. I am not making this up.

It seems that public apologies have reached the "bread and circus" stage, where media and bloggers and just-us-folk get to parse the content of apologies (or statements of apology) in a broad interpretation of, well, nothing particularly substantive. It's "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" on a public performance. The meaning of apology is lost. Do you really think any of these recent apologies mean more than spin control?

 I'm not so cynical as to say that none of the apologies are real. I'm sure that Mark Sanford, John Ensign, Tiger Woods and the rest were truly sorry, at least after they got caught. (I can't include John Edwards because he didn't come clean in his first apology, when he was still denying he fathered Rielle Hunter's baby.) But public people live their lives on the public stage, which means when they say they're sorry, it has to be stage-managed to some degree. And the rest of us get to make our own judgments.

I did not record your show yesterday, as my TiVo was looking for "State of the Union: Reliable Souorces". Is there somewhere that I can download it? And, what is your show's new Official Name and Time (EST)?

  Thanks for asking. Reliable Sources is again a separate program, listed under "R," that airs at 11 a.m. eastern, now that "State of the Union" no longer occupies all of Sunday morning. You can also get the podcast at (brief commercial announcement) or iTunes.

While his comments about Ms. Storm's choice of outfit were over-the-top (though not wholly without merit), and he should have called her to apologize, I wonder about a "two-week suspension." Why, exactly, a two-week suspension? How are these things assigned? Who is arbiter of this?

  I didn't know the suspension was two weeks. The arbiter is, naturally enough, his employer, ESPN. While Kornheiser's comments might have been a little over the top, that is what he does. And does anyone really think he would have been suspended if he'd made the same comments about the "horrifying" wardrobe of a sportcaster who works at a different channel?

The Pulitzer Prize committee's decision qualifying the National Enquirer to enter the prize for its John Edwards coverage strikes me as more evidence of the tabloidization of news. Do we now have Nancy Grace winning a prize for her Caylee coverage. Is the future of news Tiger Woods and byping some random murder in a state I seldom visit?

  Okay: Tell me the difference between the New York Times winning a Pulitzer in 2009 for revealing that Eliot Spitzer was patronizing prostitutes and the National Enquirer trying to win one in 2010 for revealing that a Democratic presidential candidate had an affair with a campaign aide and fathered her child? Especially when that relationship, and the finances involved, are now the subject of a federal grand jury investigation?

  Besides, all the Pulitzer board is doing is allowing the Enquirer to submit an entry. That hardly means the tabloid is going to win.

Bunning's filibuster, superficially about the deficit, will wind up costing the states money when the unemployment extension is finally passed. Not to mention the hit to the Transportation Dept that causes 2,000 inspectors to be sidelined. So what's so fiscally responsible about throwing a tantrum on the Senate floor and making others pay for it?

  A good question for the senator. I'm not a fan of the system that allows a single senator to hold up legislation, often because of unrelated grievances (a pork project or favored nominee that is stalled). But that's the United States Senate.

I thought she did a terrific job yesterday hosting the show, particularly keeping the partisan panelists in line. Is she in the running for the permanent spot?

  Vargas did do a good job, which didn't surprise me. But as a coanchor of "20/20" who lives in New York and has two small children, I doubt she wants a job that would require her to spend weekends in Washington.

  Thanks for the chat, folks.

In This Chat
Howard Kurtz
Kurtz has been the Washington Post's media reporter since 1990. He is also the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and the author of "Reality Show: Inside the Last Great Television News War," "Media Circus," "Hot Air," "Spin Cycle" and "The Fortune Tellers: Inside Wall Street's Game of Money, Media and Manipulation." Kurtz talks about the press and the stories of the day in "Media Backtalk.
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