Virginia Bianco-Mathis
University professor, author

Virginia Bianco-Mathis

Business department chair of management programs at Marymount University and author of two books on executive coaching.


Becoming public

Q: How much privacy do super-successful public figures deserve? Do the infidelities of Tiger Woods or former presidential candidate John Edwards change your perceptions of them?

So you remember that commercial where the kids are playing and then they say, "I want to be like Mike." Which Mike? Michael Jordan, of course.

How about that more recent commercial where the kids face the camera and say, "I amTiger Woods," with the implication that they are focused, dedicated, disciplined, goal-oriented and successful like Tiger Woods? Well, evidently, now that also means that they cheat on their wives and drive their cars into trees and fire hydrants.

When people decide to do things that lead them into the realm of "public figures," they gain access to two things: One, a privileged life with a certain level of notoriety and awe, either positive or negative; two, a life where privacy is no longer their right to claim or decide. It comes with the territory. It is inherent in the title: public figure.

Some public figures choose to mitigate the amount of public exposure by minimizing public forums and interviews, staying low-key, and clearly announcing their desire to stay behind-the-scenes.

Others make the decision to flaunt it. They hire public relations experts to purposefully create a "public brand" and they become part of the public's daily news consumption through commercials, magazine covers, advertisements, television shows, and newspaper articles. For the public, these figures become "part of the family" as we see them everyday through various media.

Tiger Woods made the decision to enter this realm when he not only became a leading golf pro but also took on commercials and endorsements. John Edwards equally entered this realm when he threw his hat into the presidential ring. And, in the case of these two men, they entered the public realm as icons of the American Way, symbols of hard work, and role models for positive success. We were encouraged to believe what they say and view them as experts we should support and trust. We were further encouraged to train our kids to be just like them.

Then, these role models turned around and displayed behaviors that ran contrary to the images they themselves fostered. It is difficult to believe in a person who says, through his actions, that living a life of lies is a characteristic needed to run the country. It is equally difficult to proudly point to a famous golf player and say that cheating on your wife is what is required to become a disciplined golf pro.

Those that disagree may claim that these guys are only human and they deserve forgiveness and a second chance. Surely, I forgive them for falling prey to activities that many of the rest of us may do -- but the rest of us don't go on television and ask children to follow in our footsteps or stand on a pulpit and claim to have what it takes to run a country.

Personal integrity is aligning one's actions with one's words. Otherwise, leaders and public figures merely become one of the characters that Holden Caulfield constantly points out in "Catcher in the Rye": a phony.

By Virginia Bianco-Mathis  |  December 7, 2009; 9:36 AM ET  | Category:  privacy Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I believe you are wrong in asserting that TW created this image. What was created was an image for a fickle public designed to sell, sell, sell. And the right to privacy is inherent in our constitution; you cannot just ditch it because you created an image a feeble-minded public craves for out of self-pity for their own inability to succeed as TW did, at least according to your writer cohort, Garrison Wynn. I do not refer to everyone, just the ones, and there are more than enough, who buy into this commercial marketing- complex of industrial proportions.

When then does one look to model himself after him in any capacity other than being the very embodiment of a great golfer? I never looked to him for ethical guidance, for moral inspiration. For goodness sakes, he GOLFS, PERIOD! He makes lots of cash. Oh wow. I always knew he was human, I never expected him to be perfect, to never err. And low and behold, he pitched his ball into the wrong cup and was penalized in personal ways we have absolutely no business muddling in.

If anyone is disheartened or frankly surprised that a man of great wealth can be so “human”, then I pity that person more than I pity TW for his own personal behavior. Who the hell are any of us to judge him against the very nature of nearly all people everywhere? “Let he who is without sin…blah, blah, blah.”

Do I feel sorry for him? Not for what he did, but for reminding me all to plainly at what a miserable lot we are as humans.

Posted by: iralarry | December 8, 2009 1:29 PM
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