Yesterday I read a Facebook posting that noted the stark differences between the media coverage of former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s infidelity and marital separation and the media coverage of pro golf champion Tiger Woods near identical sex scandal. The implication was that Schwarzenegger’s media coverage has been far less chaotic and much less venomous because he is white while Tiger Wood’s media coverage was not only hyper-sensationalized but salaciously and viciously reported because he is of African American descent.
After thinking about it further I agree there are definitely stark differences in the style, degree and even depth of reporting between the very similar sex scandals. However I do believe these differences are based primarily on three very important factors.
1. Timing. Back in 2009 Tiger Woods had a minor car accident outside his Florida home which began the unraveling of his life. This actually occurred the day after Thanksgiving. In fact when the whole revolving door of Tiger’s sex life was disclosed it happened between Thanksgiving 2009 with an initial tabloid story all the way into January 2010 when over a dozen mistresses came forward and started getting agents, lawyers and interviews on television. The holiday season is typically a slow time from a media perspective. Most news stories generated are angled around the holiday season and related fluff. So the Tiger Woods story literally filled up national and local airwaves and broadcasts because there literally were no real competing news stories vying for air time or print space.
Meanwhile the Schwarzenegger-Shriver separation was announced May 10, 2011 and revelation of a love child on May 17, 2011. But these announcements had to compete with the sex scandal of IMF Chief Dominique Straus-Kahn, the Mississippi River flooding from the Midwest into the deep South, the Mideast uprisings and protests in Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Yemen plus the falling but still very high gas prices and the continued political chatter concerning the death Osama Bin Laden.
This is quite a difference from having to compete against new stories concerning how many shopping days are left before Christmas.
2. Image. Before Arnold Schwarzenegger became a womanizing politician he was a womanizing actor and before that he was a womanizing body builder. Get the point? In fact Arnold has been quite open admitting to his past bad boy behavior and he has never presented himself in a moral, holier than though light. And there have been plenty of rumors as well as tabloid accusations of his womanizing which have haunted Schwarzenegger in both his single and married life, so this recent bombshell was really a very loud crash.
In contrast, Tiger Woods for years has gone through great pains to consistently portray himself as a clean cut, youthful, straight laced and squeaky clean role model. The brand continued to expand when he married his trophy wife, Elin and became the picture perfect loving and devoted husband and doting father of two.
Tiger’s brutally tarnished image and huge fall from grace drove the media frenzy more so than Schwarzenegger’s further tarnished image and short stumble from a diminished legacy as a highly ineffective governor.
3. Age of Children. Schwarzenegger’s four legitimate children range from ages 21 to 13. In fact some of his children are chatting it up on Twitter openly discussing their parent’s breakup and subsequent revelations. In stark contrast, Tiger’s two children were just 2 years and 9 months old at the time that his sex scandal.
It’s one thing to shame your 50-something wife and almost- to-completely grown kids with an infidelity/ love child scandal. But it’s something totally different to shame your 20-something wife and very innocent children both under the age of 3. Men who turn their backs on their young families always irk the ire of those watching and it makes for perfect sensational media coverage.
So are there major differences in the media handling and coverage of the Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tiger Wood’s sex scandals? Heck yes!! Is it racially based? No, it is a result of a combination of factors that provide for a very different interpretation and response. Let’s hope this current scandal is over by the summer so we can focus on more important matters like the price of gas!