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Tiger Talks: News Or Not?

"60 Minutes" aired a two-part profile of golfer Tiger Woods on March 26. The profile covered topics ranging from Woods' childhood stuttering to his relationship with his parents to his new children's learning center. Some observers have criticized the story, charging that it amounted to "softball journalism," in the words of The New York Times' Richard Sandomir. Here's the lede of Sandomir's Friday piece:

In the midst of Ed Bradley's worshipful two-part profile of Tiger Woods on "60 Minutes" last Sunday, I wondered if it was an infomercial or if Woods had paid a fee for these adoring 25 minutes. With nothing new to report — and not a single tough question in his arsenal — Bradley chose to join Camp Tiger.
In the Orlando Sentinel, David Whitley was equally tough. "If Tiger Woods blows a five-shot lead to lose the Masters a week from today, he'll have some explaining to do," he writes. "He only can hope 60 Minutes does the questioning." Whitley goes on to write that "60 Minutes" "has joined the world of cross-promoting, butt-kissing journalism that is re-shaping how we look at sports figures."

I asked "60 Minutes" executive producer Jeff Fager to respond to the critics.

"First of all, how is our piece that different than today's New York Times story [about Woods]?" he said, regarding a Times piece headlined "Raising a Child First, Then a Champion," which is about Woods' family. "Do they hold us to a higher standard than they hold themselves?"

"Here's my question that's a bigger question," he continued. "Should everybody who goes on '60 Minutes' get slammed? Is that how you see our job? Or is it OK to profile a superstar athlete even if we didn't uncover any dirt? Tiger Woods is someone who doesn't give interviews, so it's newsworthy to hear him talk."

I asked Fager about a comment Mike Wallace reportedly made before a group of ESPN personnel regarding the Woods piece. Wallace noted that Woods is very private, and went on to say he thought "probably some concessions were made" for "60 Minutes" to land the interview.

"You didn't see a heck of a lot of his wife, last night," said Wallace. "The concession was, look, 'I'm going to be more candid with you, Ed Bradley, than I've ever been in public before. Why? Because I'm going to get an opportunity to tell about my [charity] foundation.' I think that's fine."

Fager said the program was indeed unable to talk to Woods' wife, but that did not mean the piece was not worth doing.

"We wanted to talk to his wife," said Fager. "And he didn't want his wife to be interviewed, or she didn't want to be interviewed. But do we say 'forget it' because she wants to remain more private? Why? I think it would have been better for the story, we wish we had been able to meet her and talk to her, but do you say, 'OK we're not going to do the story?'"

I also asked if Woods insisted that his children's center be featured on the program as a condition of the interview.

"I would not want to do the story without the children's center,' said Fager. "It's important to us. It's important to him. It's news, too – that's where it came out that he had a stutter. I found it to be a very telling part of Tiger. I thought it was newsworthy."

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