The team at Bitter Lawyer was shocked (and impressed) to learn that Tiger Woods was the center of a sex scandal, even though they’re pretty much par for the course in 2009. As media outlets continue to find a sick joy in picking apart every detail, each day brings about a new comely coed (10 and counting!) who is willing to sell him out by claiming to have history with Tiger’s wood.
The world’s number-one athlete is now a punch line. (Q: What’s the difference between an Escalade and golf ball? A: Tiger Woods can drive a golf ball.) And while the press continues to buzz-saw its way through his once-squeaky image, most PR flaks agree that it’s more than possible to recover from this scandal. At least that’s what we read in the spin doctor’s bible—PR Week.
We think this whole situation makes Tiger “more relatable,” and lessons from history keep us encouraged that he’ll bounce back in due time. Several men with less talent have surpassed the sex-scandal stigma. (“Divine Brown” ring a bell? It does to Hugh Grant.)
Everyone’s favorite lawyer, Eliot Spitzer, is the main reason why we think Tiger will be granted a reputation-mulligan. Spitzer resigned as governor of New York two days after it was uncovered that he was a frequent client of an escort agency—and one call girl in particular. Previous to being governor, Spitzer had a noteworthy career as an Attorney General with an appetite for Wall Street corruption, a lawyer at Skadden Arps and Paul Weiss, a member of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, and an editor of the Harvard Law Review as a law student.
That hooker scandal should have ruined Spitzer, who, like Tiger, was at the top of his game at the time of the controversy in March 2008. But after resigning in disgrace, saying he could not allow his failings to get in the way of the good work done by others, Spitzer has been managing to claw his way back into favor.
In fact, he was a guest speaker last month at a Harvard Law ethics class.
After briefly making clear that everyone believes Spitzer was wrong to cheat on his wife with a hooker, Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig praised Spitzer, saying that he “inspired the very best in our profession.” Lessig called him “the most important living prosecutor on a wide range of corruption [issues].”
That kind of praise can soon be Tiger’s again—if he follows something similar to Spitzer’s roadmap to redemption. Here’s a blueprint for how Tiger just may play the course.
STEP 1: AVOIDING THE LAW IS NINE-TENTHS OF THE BATTLE
Sure, Spitzer had to hire a lawyer and was sweating bullets for a while, but in the end, it was the Emperor’s Club (and four of its employees) that went down—not Spitzer.
For those keeping score at home, Spitzer’s scorecard looked like this: Implicated? You bet. Charged? No. Convicted? Never.
Months later, Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau said, “The guy lost his job, apologized and was publicly embarrassed. I don’t believe in kicking someone when they’re down. It would only be a misdemeanor anyway.”
Tiger Takeaway: Stalling when the cops want to talk puts you on the right road.
STEP 2: DO AN AMICABLE APPEARANCE WITH AN ADVERSARY YOU ONCE CRUSHED
People love when you patch things up and look chummy with your nemeses. From a media perspective, it’s about as safe and bankable as you can get. Lucky for Spitzer, his old pal, Henry Blodget, was equally in need of a little positive media mojo back in August and invited him to a friendly chat.
If you don’t remember, Blodget was the Merrill Lynch research analyst accused of telling clients to sell certain stocks that he was busy hyping as “buys” on cable TV. When the dot-com bubble burst, Spitzer—AKA the “Sheriff of Wall Street”—brought Blodget down hard. Then they publicly talked it out.
Tiger Takeaway: “Fuzzy Zoeller, give me a holler.”
STEP 3: PRO (BONO) AFTER HO
Six months after Spitzer’s resignation, The New York Times reported: “[Spitzer] is working at his father’s real estate firm, and has discussed with friends whether to undertake charity, environmental or free legal work to try to rehabilitate his image.”
The piece was largely about the fallout from the former governor’s whoremongering. But the key was that Spitzer was in full image rehab mode. And there’s nothing that will rehab your image faster than charity work.
Note: Buying your way out is not possible. Especially for Spitzer, when you consider his “donations” to Ashley Dupré are what got him in hot water to begin with.
STEP 4: FONDLE SOME SOFT BALLS
Eventually, if you want to return to the limelight, you have to talk to the press. But chose your outlets wisely.
“In his first public remarks since resigning in disgrace, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer answered e-mail questions that had nothing to do with his sudden fall in a prostitution scandal,” is what USA Today wrote about Spitzer’s first interview with those muckrakers over at Time Out New York.
Among the softballs lobbed Spitzer’s way were inquiries about his favorite New Yorker (Teddy Roosevelt) and his favorite location in the city (Central Park reservoir at dusk—how romantic).
Tiger Takeaway: Accept that standing offer to speak with the journalists at Cat Fancy. Tell them nothing—other than the joys of sharing a name with the biggest member of the species.
STEP 5: WAG THE DOGGY STYLE
Nine out of ten spin-doctors agree that misdirection is perhaps the best cure for a scandal, which is what makes this story about the possibility that there was a nefarious political effort to ruin Spitzer manna from heaven.
“A congressional committee is investigating the circumstances that led to the sex scandal causing the downfall of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and whether the case was politically motivated,” a USA Today story read.
Spitzer wasn’t quoted in the story, but if he had been, he very well could have said: ”Yes, I was banging hookers, but look over here at the bright, shinny conspiracy. I implore you, look directly at the bright, shinny vast political conspiracy!
Tiger Takeaway: Blame Letterman.
STEP 6: WE’RE GONNA NEED A BIGGER SOAPBOX, ELIOT
The hard thing about getting caught with a hooker is that nobody can remember anything else you said or did. Ever. It’s as if your entire life story can be truncated thusly: He paid for sex—and got caught. But if you don’t like what others are saying about you, there is a solution: Say it yourself.
In attempt to get clean his slate, Spitzer began writing a column for… well, Slate.com nine months after his resignation, taking over The Best Policy column, dubbed as “Making government work better.” And what better way to reconnect with your wife that to make her your editor?
Of course, that didn’t stop his critics. Salon.com, for one, greeted Spitzer’s Slate column with the appropriate level of snark: “Need to rehabilitate a career after utterly humiliating and disgracing yourself in front of the world? Get an online column at Slate!”
But hey, they can only bash you for being a hooker-loving columnist once. And as for his
column soapbox, it’s still chugging along.
Tiger Takeaway: Pitching a column to Golf Magazine may be a ho-in-one. But given that Elin is a Swedish former model and not a native English speaker, proofread it yourself.
STEP 7: ROLE REVERSAL
Han Solo was a money-grubbing scoundrel, but he had the Empire to make him look good. Detective John McClane was a chain-smoking, alcoholic cop with marital problems and a bad attitude, but he had that ruthless German thief, Hans Gruber, to make him a hero. Dirty Harry was… well, you get the idea. Heroes can be flawed, so long as their adversaries are evil. And the more flawed the hero, the more evil the adversary needs to be.
Enter the horribly flawed Eliot Spitzer at the beginning of the AIG mess, where he got to reprise his role as the “Sheriff of Wall Street” against the evil insurance giant that wrecked the U.S. economy and outraged the nation with its greed.
As CNN’s GPS host Fareed Zakaria said: “[Spitzer was the one] guy who took on the financial firms at the height of their prestige and power when the country, the media, and Washington were gushing with admiration.”
Practically sounds like a remake of High Noon, with Spitzer in the Gary Cooper role, and a bunch of Wall Street fat cats playing the villains.
Tiger Takeaway: Look into bringing that ne’er-do-well Shooter McGavin from Happy Gilmore or the Caddyshack gopher onto the tour.
STEP 9: CALL IT A COMEBACK
Is Spitzer running for office? Probably not. But who cares? At least they’re talking about him, right?
A little more than a year after resigning in disgrace, Fox News had this to say about Spitzer’s political future: “Spitzer as the next comeback kid? Stranger things have happened. Hookers and infidelity aside, Eliot Spitzer, once known as the ‘Sheriff of Wall Street,’ has won kudos for his observations on the present economic crisis, and some observers suggest conditions now are better than ever for him to return to the limelight—if he wants to.”
Okay, so you can never fully leave the “infidelity” word behind, but the idea that anyone would be talking about a comeback for Spitzer a year after his resignation, well… that’s media rehab indeed.
Tiger Takeaway: Simply win another Major.
STEP 10: HOT FOR TEACHER
Those who can, do; those who can’t because they got caught banging hookers, teach.
Teaching “Law and Public Policy” at City College of New York for $4,500 isn’t exactly the height of prestige, but it’s respectable. And seeing “Professor” before your name instead of “high-priced prostitution ring client” is a big PR win.
Tiger Takeaway: See Step 3—and be sure to invite photographers to snap you coaching.