Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.


A crashing icon

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?

Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis once wrote that "the right to be let alone" is "the most comprehensive of rights, and the right most valued by civilized men." Brandeis wrote in reference to governmental wiretapping in 1928, but his statement rings very true in 2010.

People -- even hugely successful and famous people such asTiger Woods -- still prize their privacy, often going to great lengths to shield their private lives from the prying eyes and lenses of fans and paparazzi.

In an age when voracious public demand for details makes it possible for independent photographers to earn thousands of dollars with snapshots of celebrities in their most private moments, the celebrity quest for privacy can become a desperate flight from public exposure. The image of Princess Di's mangled car in that Paris tunnel remains the ultimate tragic symbol of the celebrity race against invasion of privacy.

Tiger Woods is famous for doing one thing very well: hitting little white balls around large expanses of grass. He hasn't researched a cure for cancer. He's not responsible for teaching a room full of 30 first-graders how to read. He is not a pastor or preacher. He is not a public official with weighty responsibilities for the nation. He is not responsible for making war or establishing peace.

He is, quite simply, a golfer, albeit a very good golfer. His fame and wealth are utterly disproportionate to the social value of his occupation. He owes his wealth to the media (most of his money comes from endorsements) -- so he can't have it both ways, demanding a "right to be left alone" even as he expects the cash to keep flowing his way.

Tiger's fame and wealth, not his golfing prowess, make his personal conduct a ripe subject for public scrutiny. It's possible that other golfers on the pro tour have had affairs along the way; the public interest is not about a golfer cheating on his wife, but rather, about an icon crashing. Not crashing the car, but his marriage.

Guys have sex, and sometimes they have it with women not their wives. It's wrong, and it goes on all the time, including among famous men (the list is endless). In fact, I suspect that behind the fake "harumphs" and "tut-tuts" of so many commentators, there are some high-fives in the gallery of guys who like it when a famous person turns out to be just like them. In the long run, Tiger's legend will grow as a result of this scandal because people like their icons even more when they are rendered human.

Tiger allowed the media to create his image, but passively; he never mounted a platform to proclaim his endorsement of "family values" in the way that politicians do all the time. Tiger never lied to the public about his values, he just didn't live up to public expectations.

In this way, his story is different from that of John Edwards, who, while being a Senator and candidate for vice president (2004) and later president (2008), presented himself as a "squeaky clean" family man who could win votes. He was cheating on his wife during that time, even while she was sick with cancer, but he denied the affair and tried to hide his paternity of his own child in his effort to win the nomination.

Tiger may be a cad, but John Edwards became a fraud. Tiger will make people forget his behavior if he starts winning majors again. Edwards should simply disappear from public life.

By Patricia McGuire  |  December 7, 2009; 10:04 AM ET  | Category:  privacy Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Celebrities deserve the same amount of privacy we all should expect.

However. When you are trying to sell me products based on your good name, and the cleanliness thereof, you should expect that that cleanliness should truly be clean.

You're an idiot, babe.

Posted by: jhershelredpuppy1 | December 8, 2009 5:26 PM
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Typical celebrity. Give me all the glory, fame and money, but none of the bad stuff thank you very much.

Remember, Tiger is rich rich rich, and will be protected by those in the media who use Tiger as their bread and butter. No Tiger, no bread and butter.

Posted by: beenthere3 | December 8, 2009 4:58 PM
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I for one am perplexed at the endless needs a person can have given from the outside they appear to have everything a person could possibly want for a male: great, unspeakable and ridiculous for the reasons wealth, a stunningly beautiful wife, adoring friends and an enthusiastic public. Then I remember, we are on the outside. We have no right to know what is going on with him. We may want to know and how unfortunate it is we have a well-paid media to produce it for us. How sad is it that we should take more interest in someone else’s life when we have our very own to pay admirable attention to. We really are a lost society.

Posted by: iralarry | December 8, 2009 1:03 PM
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Why do so many people care about Tiger Woods so much that they have to circle around his indiscretions like a pack of vultures? Isn't that what his family and friends are for?

Really all I see in this "scandal" is a sick society that imagines that people like Tiger Woods are more "real" or "important" than others. Sure, he's a great golfer but get a grip folks.

Maybe obsession with celebrities is how most people in our society choose to ignore reality. No, you don't have to think about the unraveling climate, your kid's depression, your bulling boss or the pedophile priest up the street. Just take another shot of celebrity glamor, and don't let Tiger harsh your buzz.

Posted by: bigbrother1 | December 8, 2009 12:46 PM
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Yes, he CAN expect to be left alone. If you were a rich CEO you would expect privacy and a rich golfer should expect the same. Let him lose or gain endorsements accordingly, but meanwhile, mind your own business.

Posted by: jackson641 | December 8, 2009 12:11 PM
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