What Tiger Woods Can Learn From Eliot Spitzer

Yesterday Eliot Spitzer had an excellent op-ed, about AIG, in the New York Times. Hendrik Hertzberg, at the New Yorker, praised it. No-one mentioned his sex scandal. Here's what he did right, and what Tiger Woods is doing wrong.

Woods' media management errors were best outlined by John Cassidy, also at the New Yorker. But Spitzer's recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. It was revealed that he had sex with a hooker less than two years ago, in March 2008. He kept his socks on during sex. He got caught by the FBI and the New York Times. The hooker told all, and is now a columnist for the New York Post. By rights he should be toast. But instead a return to politics is on the cards. Here's what he did right:

  • He confronted it head on: it is presumably not fun to get caught schtupping someone unsavory and then face the world's media with your scorned wife next to you. But it is effective media management — in admitting your misdeeds on your own terms you spike the tabloid guns and kill speculation stories. Who's going to run "source close to" material when they have first-hand quotes?
  • He went to rehab: it's a dreadful cliche for any public figure caught with their pants down. But rehab just means you have an excuse not to be photographed outside your house looking miserable with your wife. It's a retreat from the world — one that looks contrite and encourages picture editors to send their photographers to stalk another celeb.
  • He stuck to what he was good at: many thought that Spitzer's reputation as a sharp operator and cleaner-up was done. He decided it wasn't. And, as the financial crisis hit, he began to write about it — for the Washington Post and then in a column for Slate. Tiger Woods quit golf.
  • He did not hide: Spitzer began attending events and talking casually to journalists a few months after the scandal broke, in late 2008. It was impeccable timing. Sooner and any party he went to would have been a mob scene. Later and stories revisiting the scandal would have come out. "Mr Spitzer presumably knew he was walking into the lion's den since he was surrounded by journalists," said the FT's John Gapper of a party he attended with Spitzer in December 2008, "but he was unabashed. I rather admired his chutzpah and his willingness to turn up." Tiger Woods quit golf.
  • He had a sense of humor: when asked, by Gapper at that party, about life as a Slate columnist he said "It sucks. I used to be governor of New York.
  • He controlled his access carefully: compare this candid, open, positive Vanity Fair interview with what happens when the media get hold of the cowardly statements Woods puts out on his website when he has something to say.

Apart from the above, he mostly shut up. Which might be why Eliot Spitzer is talked of, as more than a punchline, as a potential candidate for the Senate or a return to Albany as Comptroller or Attorney General. It will be a while before Tiger Woods is talked of as anything but a cheat.