Tiger "suddenly it's all gone so terribly wrong" Woods has injuncted the British press to stop talking about his love life.
So good job – that's that barn door shut. But the horse had not only already bolted, it had slipped out of town and is living under an assumed identity in Walton-on-the-Naze.
First of all, what real good could it possibly do, even from his perspective? Does he think we won't hear the scurrilous rumours anyway? Does he think that the commentary online, shorn of the relatively restraining influence of mainstream commentary, will be less tawdry and sensationalist?
Secondly, we've written before about restraining the press from reporting things, in the Carter Ruck context.- about how Britain's libel laws are harming journalism. Here's it's slightly different, admittedly, as what's being injuncted is titillating rather than serious. but there's an important point about the nature of freedom of speech to be made, and furthermore where this story lies on the titillating / serious scale is a judgment that I have made. As long as you're happy having what constitutes your news decided for you by me, that's fine. If you're not, then it's probably not fine. The fact that I don't care about the goings-on in the life of Tiger "suddenly it's all gone so terribly wrong" Woods hardly means that nobody does, does it? Nor are they necessarily interested in the story only from a cheap and titillating perspective.
Because there are people who will genuinely wish to know about his life, viewing him as an erstwhile role model they had looked up to, and viewing his pecadilloes, if true, as being symptoms of rank hypocrisy which rob him of that status. His carefully manufactured, wholesome image might be thought to be punctured by these "revelations" and a discussion of such things interests some people. Why shouldn't they be able to discuss them? He chose to live in this way when it raked in millions – they might say – why can't we discuss it now that it's not quite so rosy?
The extent to which serious journalism seeps into info-tainment is also something one should consider. Scurrilous suggestions about Michael Jackson eventually led to criminal trial processes (albeit not a conviction, a fact perhaps connected with large out-of-court settlements). Cheap slurs against Jeremy Thorpe, former leader of the Liberal Party, led to his trial for attempted murder. John Profumo and Christine Keeler. Multiple celebrities and drug trials/convictions: Robert Downey Junior. Pete Doherty. Matthew McConaughey. And so on. Viewed from that perspective, it is very hard to decide where "serious" journalism ends and trash begins.
All in all – my instinct is against any incursion of free speech. Whilst I realise and appreciate that that right is not absolute, it is nevertheless very important in a free society and the threshold must be set very high to breach it. Tiger "suddenly it's all gone so terribly wrong" Woods' I don't like the way they're talking about me hardly comes near satisfying that.
By Alex Deane