Tiger Woods recently made the news for a bad drive-a crash in his SUV. While such accidents are not unheard of (I once accidentally backed over a friend’s mailbox), this incident has gotten considerable news coverage for two reasons: first, it involved a celebrity. Second, there is speculation that the crash might be the sign of something more. To be specific, there is speculation that Woods is having an affair. The fact that Woods declined to talk to the police (which is his right), issued a somewhat odd apology and said that any assertions that his wife was not the first there are lies raised additional questions about exactly what was going on.
Obviously, it is reasonable to be suspicious about the situation. After all, if there had just been a simple crash, then the matter would have closed quickly without the oddities noted above.
While I am not interested in golf at all and I am not really a fan of Woods (because I’m not really the fan sort), when I learned about the odd aspects of the situation, I was vaguely concerned. After all, while Woods has clearly crafted a public image that serves him (and his bank account) well, he does seem to be a decent person. Also, he has been quite actively involved in charitable works. As such, if there is something unfortunate going on, then this would be rather damaging to Woods as an individual and also as a role model. While I am cynical enough to know that people are quite capable of failings, I rather hope that this has not happened. After all, it would be rather bad for Woods as an individual. Further, since Woods is a role model, any serious failing on his part would have repercussions beyond his own life.
One final point to address is the question of whether the public has the right to know about what is going on in Woods’ life.
Obviously, when someone crashes his vehicle and the police are involved, then the expectation of privacy is lost-at least in terms of there being a public police report about the incident.
Of course, the coverage of Woods is going beyond that sort of “one car accident” reports that make the local news and includes the sort of speculation that was mentioned above. Obviously enough, folks are eagerly trying to pry into Woods’ life and learn what (if anything) is going on. But, do people have a right to know what (if anything) is going on?
On one hand, it could be argued that they do. After all, Woods is voluntarily a public figure and benefits greatly from his fame and from positive press. He also profits considerably from appearing in commercials-including one in which he is reading a bedtime story to his child. If he is willing to accept the public eye and invite cameras into his life when it is to his advantage, then it would seem that he must also face that eye when it is to his disadvantage.
On the other hand, it can be argued that even if Woods benefits from the public eye, this does not entail that the public has a right to know about his private life insofar as it is a private matter. To use an analogy, I make my living by appearing in public as a professor. While this means that people have a right to view my public activities in class, it does not entail that they have a right to know about what is going on in my private life. While Woods fame is vastly greater than mine (if I can even be said to possess any) and he makes a considerable fortune from his public persona, he should be entitled to the same right to privacy.
It might be countered that Woods is a public figure in a way that someone like me is not. The analogy that might be used in this case is to a politician. They are public figures and the public has a right to know about what is going on in their lives. Likewise, Woods is a public celebrity and hence the public has a right to know.
This can be countered by pointing out two things that might break the analogy: politicians are elected and are (in theory) accountable to the people. As such, the people have a considerable right to know because it can directly impact them. However, while Woods popularity rests on the public, he is not in a position of authority and he is not accountable to the public in that manner. As such, his private life is no more the business of the public than their private lives are his business.