Devouring the latest ‘news’

Our 24/7 gossipy, gotcha culture gone wild is embarrassing. All the amazing technological advances at our hands were invented so we can deliver instantaneous “news” worldwide and completely blur the distinction between public and private, legal and moral?

Not all public figures are equal. Celebrities — athletes, actors, models — are not elected officials, corporate CEOs or religious figures. When a governor can’t be located after telling his wife he was going hiking on the Appalachian Trail and is later discovered to have been in Argentina visiting his girlfriend, that’s news. But infidelity, in and of itself, is not news.

Yes, the media are to blame. So is Americans’ insatiable appetite for this ridiculous build-somebody-up beyond belief and then tear-them-down cycle of celebrity obsession. Leading to the public confession of private sins, public self-flagellation, public apologies to partners that should be private, and apologies to fans that shouldn’t be made at all.

What happened in the pages of The National Enquirer used to stay in The National Enquirer. But celebrity gossip went mainstream with the digital age. The media are happy to let the tabloids do the dirty work, and then jump in and pile on. Sometimes the tabloids do the real work, such as showing us the real John Edwards, which the media are also happy to latch onto.

In the case of Tiger Woods, the media’s most egregious mistake was ignored because it’s not as titillating as Tiger’s transgressions: In the race to break news 24/7, initial reports, dutifully posted to all mainstream media Web sites, blared headlines that said the world’s top golfer was in serious condition following a car accident. That’s shocking, heart-sinking news. But one called up the story to find it was a driveway fender-bender; no more details available at this time. (If Tiger Woods had been seriously injured, or killed, we would’ve then embarked on the opposite celebrity cycle: The complete canonization. Especially of one so young and exceptionally talented.)

Now, just a week after Woods’ accident, he is criticized for not apologizing the right away, or “coming clean” soon enough. Since he guarded his privacy, and “cultivated” a “squeaky clean” image, he is now getting what he deserves.

(It’s easy to be moralistic when the media aren’t gunning to expose your own hypocrisies.)

The man is a professional golfer. Can we please get a grip? This is fodder for comedians, and they are doing their part. But when NBC News’ Brian Williams solemnly announces that Tiger Woods admitting adultery is one of the night’s top stories, well, what’s left to do but break out the scarlet letters?

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