When the Media Goes Too Far

Last Memorial Day, in the early hours of the morning, an adult male unsuccessfully attempted to pull his car off the side the road. With the car partially sticking into the right lane, the brake light on as well as the right turn signal blinking, the car remained stopped. No other individuals or vehicles were involved.

According to a police report, the man in the driver’s seat had to be awakened by police. His speech was slow and slurred, but he was “cooperative.” A dash-cam video in the police cruiser had been activated to record police officers talking to the man, and questioning him on suspicion of driving under the influence.

As police discovered, the man was not intoxicated with alcohol, but was impaired due to a combination of prescription drugs.

Discovering possible DUI drivers is a scenario repeated by police hundreds, if not thousands of times each night throughout the country. What makes this particular incident different is the driver: Tiger Woods.

As reported on several cable channels, including CNN (May 31), the dash-cam video records Woods going through a field-sobriety test. “At one point the officer asks him, ‘Are you alright?’

“Woods then walks unsteadily through the frame. He returns to begin the tests.

“The officer asks him if he has been drinking, and he says no.

“When asked whether he had been taking medications, he says yes and the officer asks which ones. Woods’ answer is muted in the recording.”

According to the police report, Woods registered 0.000 on the Breathalyzer test and urine test. However, he had an “unexpected reaction to prescribed medications” as a result of back surgery.

“I understand the severity of what I did,” Woods said in a statement, “and I take full responsibility for my actions.”

He was cited for DUI and improper parking.

However, what troubled me most was a decision by news directors to not just run the story, but too endlessly repeat the dash-cam video obtained from police in subsequent news cycles.

Woods is a celebrity. I understand that. I also understand that much of what celebrities do typically makes news. However, for approximately the next 48-hours plus, the dash-cam video became ratings fodder for cable, network news and entertainment shows alike. That’s no longer news. That’s blatant exploitation.

This has nothing to do with the First Amendment and everything to do with the reasonable expectation of respect and privacy.

One option for the media would have been to document the story with one or two still frames from the video, but that would obviously reduce the “sensational” details of a celebrity caught in an embarrassing moment.

Tiger Woods has had problems in the past and they certainly fall within the scope of news reporting. However, this was a man who – while under the influence of prescription drugs – attempted to safely pull his car off the road and is discovered with his foot still on the brake. He’s cooperative and non-combative with the police who are trying to help him.

While Woods clearly needs help with prescription drugs, he doesn’t deserve to have a police video repeated through news cycle after new cycle. If CNN’s Wolf Blitzer or Fox’s Sean Hannity were caught in a similar circumstance, I don’t think they would like to have such a video repeatedly aired for family and friends to watch.

Woods held himself accountable for his actions, and I hope he gets the help he needs. What he doesn’t need – what no celebrity deserves – is to have that kind of mistake endlessly played for millions of viewers.

That’s not news. That’s shameless pandering.

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