Tiger Woods Hoax E-Mail — How Far Has Mainstream Media Fallen

I got it — and if you’re a golf fan, or know someone with e-mail, you probably got it too. You know what I’m talking about — the e-mail detailing “the inside story” about Tiger Woods’ accident and the ensuing fallout. I pegged it right up there with notes detailing my good fortune should I forward them to “at least” 10 friends, e-mails about lotteries I’ve apparently won though I never entered, and mail about the need to offer all my personal details or someone will close my bank account, even though that someone doesn’t know how to spell the bank’s name correctly. If you believe these e-mails, then I’ve got a Nigerian friend who is trying to extricate $25-million fortune of his former oil executive father who was killed by local dictator.  All he needs is your social insurance number, home address and some other specifics. Call now — his offer will surely expire soon.

 The Tiger e-mail started appearing just before Christmas — and like everyone of these sorts of notes, it came from the friend of a “member” at Isleworth, the gated community where Tiger and a bunch of other pro golfers reside.

Here’s the scoop:

When Tiger returned home around 11:30 -12 that night, Elin confronted him about the text message in the phone, and this started a heated discussion to its regards. According to what I was told, there was more “incriminating evidence” than just the text message (i.e. photos). Tiger tried to play it off to Elin by telling her she was reading too much in to it, and did not know the story, etc. Tiger went upstairs to change into his gym shorts and t – shirt, came back down, and Elin confronted him again; to which Tiger gave the same story. Tiger sat down in a chair in the living room, and Elin sat acorss from him urging Tiger to just come clean. Tiger stayed to his guns and denied everything. At one point Tiger turned away to look at the TV, and as he turned back, Elin hit him on the right side of the face with the head of a 9 – iron. When she struck Tiger, she put a huge gash in the right side of his face next to his nose (causing his nose to bruise some), and virtually knocking two of his upper teeth out, and breaking the bone on the upper right side. Tiger ran scared as hell out of the house (which is why he had on no shoes) with Elin swinging the golf club thoughout the hallway to the garage (i.e causing the severe damage which has been reported). Tiger hopped in the Escalade and tried to leave; and as we know Elin knocked out the windows in the Escalade. When Tiger crashed, Elin panicked and was not sure what to tell the police (which is why there are two conflicting stories from her). When this happened, Elin immediately called Mark Steinberg to tell him what happened, and Mark told Elin to tell him what hospital they were going to, and he would meet them there.

So that’s the story — there’s more, of course, details including the fact that Arnold Palmer, who the e-mail claims is one of the only people who understands Woods (and I wonder if the creator of the e-mail understood all the implications of that statement), is helping the golfer through his personal turmoil.

Anyway, the e-mail bounced about and then we hit the dead zone between Christmas and New Year’s. Those who have worked in the newspaper business understand what this means. Most reporters try to take the time off — and those that are left sitting in half-empty offices spend more time sipping coffee and going for lunch than reporting. However, papers have to be filled and therefore content is needed. Little of note happens during this period (though the near-miss terrorist attack on an American airline surely helped fill pages), so reporters often spend their time manufacturing year-end stories, retrospectives and light features. Then suddenly someone notes that a retired Atlanta Journal-Constitution editor, now 92, has posted a note about the Tiger Woods story on his website and voila, the saga of the world’s most famous fallen golf star has a follow.

I didn’t publish or write about the note because it read like a hoax from the start. There was no substantiation and the claims seemed outrageous. Who really bought into the romantic notion that Woods was hitting balls at Bay Hill at night? Only a person whose never been to Bay Hill. It isn’t exactly a hidden enclave, removed from the world. It is a pretty public place just outside of Orlando — full or resort guests and members. And I don’t actually recall a facility that allows one to hit balls at night there, though admittedly it has been several years since I was at the course, so it may well have changed. Needless to say, I can list a dozen places where Woods could practice without the eyes of the public being on him — but that doesn’t fit the plotline of the e-mail.

The point is that the e-mail seemed too detailed and too easy to be real. Come on  — Steinburg, Woods’ agent, shows up on a moments notice, though the head office of IMG is in Cleveland, and jets Woods to a clinic in Arizona to get fixed up after being battered with an iron? None of the neighbours noticed half his face was bashed in when they came out of their homes after the car accident?

While I may not have written about it, that didn’t stop the mainstream press from picking up on the story.  I’m not sure who all the people are who read Furman Bisher’s blog — he’s a noted sports writer, though apparently not very discerning on his sources — but on Dec. 26 he posted the e-mail as if he was the first person to receive it. That was enough evidence, apparently, for news outlets to start reprinting the note, all referencing Bisher’s site. Within a day, newspapers and websites were reporting the story like it was fact (including several in Canada). It took a day or two more for someone to call Steinburg, who said it was a hoax.

Not that everyone bought into it. Blogger Stephanie Wie wrote that it seemed like a hoax, noting the e-mail came from an anonymous post on golf board on Dec. 21. It went viral sometime afterwards, and a mainstream media story about a week later.

So, take one posting board missive about Tiger Woods in a period where there is no new news, have someone start e-mailing that note to friends, and then add one retired sports columnist and you’ve got a story — regardless of whether there’s any validity to it.

How seriously are people taking this story? Well, the Florida police had to issue a statement saying that no, Tiger Woods’ face wasn’t bashed in beyond recognition, and that he only had a fat lip. And Furman Bisher is pissed anyone who wasn’t a friend saw the post and thought it might be true.

All of this is good news for papers as the head toward the dead zone of New Year’s — several have reports about Furman Bisher’s angry response (he says he is “electronically illiterate” and that his blog was for “friends only)  and the fact the police are saying the bit about Tiger’s face being smoked with an iron isn’t quite accurate.

Copy filed. Space filled. Mission accomplished.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

7 CommentsLeave a comment

  • RT,

    The Canwest braintrust credited Bisher as a source and went with the story. It was the most read story on the Vancouver Sun site at one point.

    Shouldn’t someone get fired for that?

  • What raised my suspicion about the email was the fact that Elin supposedly struck Tiger in the face with a nine iron (!!), but only “panicked” later on when he crashed the car. It’s not a stretch to imagine Elin swinging away with a club, smashing a few pieces of furniture and threatening Tiger, but I can’t see her smashing his face in. Had she accidentally done so, she would’ve panicked at that time, not later on.

    It just didn’t seem to fit. (Much like the original story of her “saving Tiger” with the club, for that matter)

  • Tighthead: I’ve worked for Canwest. All I can say is it isn’t hard to see how this stuff happens. Remember — neither of the national chains has a regular golf writer at the moment. Rubenstein is writing for irregularly for the Globe for the first time in 30 years, and Canwest can’t afford one.

  • That story was so lame.

    Now, the first journalist who could prove Tiger flew into Toronto to see Dr. Galea prior to his knee surgery would have the blockbuster story.

    Of course, that is IF he did.

  • Elin never hit Tiger with a club. She used it to smash out the back window of the truck, unlock the door and pull her hubby out. Tiger crashed the car because he was thumbing on his bb. His marriage is in shambles. Let’s hope they both have the strength to patch things up.

  • funny…a few comments seem to have been deleted…pointing out the irony of RT making wise-cracks about mis-reporting the story, when he has butchered the Woods story from day one, seemingly using TMZ as his top truth ‘source’

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