Don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of the mea culpa. I'm a strong advocate of the "fess up when you mess up" approach, as my mom called it. It's not Woods' apology itself that I think he got so wrong, but the whole setup, from the very beginning, did him no favors.
Woods has a well-deserved reputation for tightly controlling his image, for being cool, aloof and distant except when it's in his financial interests not to be. This performance -– and that's a good description in my opinion -– didn't do anything to soften that image.
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Limiting the number of reporters in attendance, for instance. I understand the desire for control, but this came off as a token effort at best, manipulative at worst. What's the point of having any reporters in the room? For me, it brought to mind an execution, where reporters are invited not so much to report as to witness.
I do agree with the decision not to allow questions though. Who wants to bear their soul and then have to endure shouted questions about how many Hooters waitresses you've slept with? Avoiding uncontrolled questions means avoiding further embarrassment for Woods, at least for the time being.
Add to my complaints the venue. So formal and cold, and that rubbed off on Woods. The regal blue curtains, the podium, the church-like seating just struck me wrong. The odd over-the-shoulder second camera angle didn't help, making him look detached and highlighting the extremely uncomfortable body language of the stony-faced audience.
It was a very, very personal moment in a very, very impersonal setting.
Then there was the apology itself. Let's start with the delivery. I'm not doubting his genuine sincerity, but I'll certainly argue that he didn't come off that way, or not nearly as much as he needed to. This was a time to come off as more candid, less controlled, less scripted. Woods went 0 for 3.
I have a mental picture of the script he had in front of him. Choke on a few words: check. Swallow hard: check. Express anger toward the press: check. Stare woefully into the camera: check. Do that again, but not so long this time: check. Play the religion card: check. Hug your mom: check. Bro-hug those dudes in the front row: check.
He also had some peculiar message points. My favorite was his impassioned defense of his wife.
"Elin deserves praise, not blame," he said. Hold on a sec, professor. Who's been blaming her? The most cynical amongst us would accuse him of a very subtle ploy there -– insinuating that someone else might bear at least some of the blame by beseeching us not to blame them.
And then there was the window-smashing incident. Even his most ardent defenders have a hard time swallowing the story that Elin broke the Escalade windows to rescue him from a vehicle that wasn't all that damaged, rather than trying to tattoo him with the Nike logo on the bottom of his 7-iron. So why even bring it up. Doing so puts a dent in his credibility to match the one in his forehead.
So what should he have done? Gone on "Oprah." I'm not kidding. I know it's cliché, but it's not like she's known for hard-hitting interviews. She's an avowed fan of Woods, who delivers an audience.
Or pick another sympathetic interviewer and sit down for a more casual, one-on-one chat. The questions could still be scripted, the environment warm and personal, the camera angles and lighting softer, and there would still be room for those anguished glances into the camera.
The point is, this is a guy who has made an art form of controlling his image. He's got some of the best minds in brand-building and reputation management at his disposal. They could have done so much better.