By:
February 24, 2021

The news broke at 2:38 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday.

Golfer Tiger Woods, one of the most popular and well-known athletes in the world, was involved in a single-car accident near Los Angeles. Emergency personnel on the scene had to use equipment to remove Woods from his SUV. Woods was then transported to the hospital with injuries.

That all came from an official statement released by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Soon, social media posted photos and videos of the badly damaged car, and then there was a statement from Woods agent, who said, “Tiger Woods was in a single-car accident this morning in California where he suffered multiple leg injuries. He is currently in surgery and we thank you for your privacy and support.”

And for the longest time, that was it. That’s all that we knew.

Yet, cable news stations, online news sites and journalists had to begin telling this huge story. And, make no mistake, this was a huge story.

As longtime sports commentator Bob Costas told CNN, Woods is bigger than the sport of golf. Woods, Costas explained, has a charisma and magnetism that go beyond sports. Michael Jordan had it. Tom Brady has it.

And Tiger most certainly has it.

“People who don’t know the difference between a birdie and a bogey know Tiger Woods,” Costas said. “That’s why this is the story in America right now.”

Costas is right. It’s why major networks broke into regular programming. It’s why cable news networks turned over their programming completely to the Woods story.

But that also led to potential problems.

As cable news stations and online sites and journalists tried to fill time and space with this huge story, they had to do so, initially, with very little information. Social media users then started wagging a finger, warning journalists and news outlets to be responsible, to not get carried away with misinformation, to not speculate about things that were not known, to stick to the facts even though facts were scarce.

However, if you watched the news across cable news outlets such as CNN, MSNBC and, especially, ESPN, you would’ve found responsible coverage.

About an hour after the accident, there were official reports that Woods’ injuries were not life-threatening, but that he suffered multiple leg injuries.

And at that point, coverage remained responsible, but that doesn’t mean topics were or should have been avoided.

Was it fair to wonder if Woods’ golf career — perhaps the greatest of all time — was in jeopardy? Yes. Was it fair to talk about his multiple past injuries and obstacles? Yes. Was it fair to talk about Woods’ 2009 Thanksgiving Day accident that blew the lid off the scandal that revealed multiple extramarital affairs, which ended his marriage? Yes.

This is all a part of Woods’ life, his career, his story. So are all his victories and professional comebacks. Those are the chapters of his life. Tuesday was another chapter in that story.

And it was also completely fair to mention his arrest in 2017 when police in Florida found him asleep in his car at 3 a.m. with the engine running. Woods blamed the incident on prescription medicines. He pleaded guilty to reckless driving and entered a diversion program for first-time DUI offenders.

Again, this is a part of Woods’ recent past and it is fair to mention, especially because Woods is coming off his fifth back surgery just last month.

There’s nothing wrong with mentioning all of these things as long as it was framed correctly and put in context. That is the key: context. That is, you constantly remind your audience of the facts — what is known, what is not known and what official authorities and spokespeople are saying. And, from what I saw Tuesday, media coverage did exactly that.

The Los Angeles Times was especially strong with its coverage, writing about what it knew, as well as the area where Woods crashed and reaction to the accident.

CNN, using official sources, reported what it knew for certain.

ESPN’s Bob Harig reported sources saying “that Woods has crush injuries of both lower legs, including a compound fracture and a shattered ankle.”

Harig also reported, “Authorities said there was no immediate evidence that Woods was impaired. They checked for odor of alcohol or other signs he was under the influence of a substance, but did not find any.”

Again, this is responsible reporting — quoting authorities, and not making blind assessments or assumptions.

In the coming days, we’ll learn more details about the accident, specifically how it happened.

Here’s hoping the media continues to do the responsible job it has done so far. But let me know what you’re seeing, and whether or not it fits the definition of good, responsible coverage.

Filling in at the Post

Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron, who announced his retirement last month, will step down at the end of the month. But the search to replace Baron is not going to be done by the time Baron exits.

So, in the meantime, Cameron Barr, one of the Post’s four managing editors, will be the acting executive editor when Baron leaves. The New York Post’s Keith J. Kelly reports that Barr, who is the managing editor in charge of news and features, is being considered as Baron’s permanent replacement, as is Post national editor Steve Ginsberg. However, the search also includes several outside candidates.

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Maggie Haberman’s new beat

For the past five years, there might not have been a reporter more associated with covering President Donald Trump than The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman. I don’t know Haberman personally, but from what I do know of her, she would probably bristle at the thought of being called a celebrity or star journalist.

But because of her constant scoops, insightful reporting and frequent TV appearances, Haberman has, indeed, become a star in the journalism world.

Now with a new president comes a new role for Haberman. The Times announced that Haberman will have two new assignments.

One, Haberman will join the investigative/enterprise team in the Times’ Washington bureau. The Times announced that Elisabeth Bumiller, Dick Stevenson and Patrick Healy will share Haberman’s duties on the investigative/enterprise team.

In addition, The Times announced Haberman will “continue to work with the Politics desk to track the post-Trump landscape and the early rumblings of the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential campaign.”

Turning right

Al Jazeera is going to launch a new digital platform aimed at conservative audiences. It will be called “Rightly” and it’s being described in some circles as a platform for those who feel left out by the mainstream media. Politico Playbook, which broke the news, reports that longtime Fox News veteran Scott Norvell will be the editor-in-chief. Rightly’s first show will be an opinion-based interview show called “Right Now with Stephen Kent.” The first episode will drop on Thursday.

The Guardian’s Adam Gabbatt wrote, “A former staff member at Heat Street, a news website launched by News Corp in April 2016 and shut down in August 2017, said Norvell was involved in that site’s politics swinging to the right.”

A person speaking on condition of anonymity told Gabbatt, “Scott Norvell played a part in transitioning Heat Street from libertarian youth-oriented site as originally envisaged to pro-Trump alt-right Breitbart clone.”

An important topic

The latest episode of “The Debrief” — the CBS news podcast hosted by Major Garrett — is called “Virus of Hate” and explores what is behind the surge of anti-Asian racism and what can be done about it. Garrett speaks with pro basketball player Jeremy Lin, U.S. Congressman Ted Lieu, CBS News correspondent Weijia Jiang and others.

Speaking of this topic, my Poynter colleague Joie Chen is hosting a conversation this Thursday at noon Eastern. Chen will speak with Jiang and ABC “Nightline” co-anchor Juju Chang about this kind of racism. This On Poynt conversation is called “Race in America: Where Is the Coverage of Anti-Asian Harassment and Violence?” Click here for details on how to watch.

Throwing a pass?

Jeff Bezos (Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx)

Front Office Sports’ A.J. Perez reports that Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos might have an interest in buying the Washington National Football League team.

There have been rumors for a couple of years now that Bezos is interested in an NFL team and Washington could be a fit. There has been mounting pressure for current Washington owner Daniel Snyder to sell the team, especially after blockbuster reports last year that the organization had a toxic work environment. Interestingly enough, the two biggest reports (here and here) detailing sexual harassment and verbal abuse were in The Washington Post. However, it’s doubtful Bezos had any involvement in either of those stories.

While fans and maybe even the NFL would love to see Snyder out as owner, especially if he was replaced by someone with the deep pockets of Bezos, Snyder seems intent on maintaining ownership.

New newsletter

Politico has launched a new newsletter called “The Recast.” It’s a twice-weekly newsletter that, according to Politico, “breaks down how race and identity are shaping politics, policy and power. The nation’s demographics are changing. Power is changing. We want to document that change and put it in context for our readers.”

NPR’s Brakkton Booker is joining Politico to take charge of the newsletter.

Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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