It’s a game of inches, sports fans. (That’s Cliche # 11 in the sportswriter’s playbook. You can look it up.) Still, it’s a cliche for a simple reason–it’s true. The fascinating story of the day, more fascinating than Tiger Woods reading his statement in Florida, is how the National Enquirer almost didn’t break the Tiger Tail scandal story.
ESPN’s E:60’s Ben Houser has the behind-the scenes tale courtesy of Barry Levine, the executive editor of the National Enquirer. The most interesting tidbits in this piece are that the Enquirer wasn’t terribly interested in Woods originally, and didn’t have the mistress story nailed down until it uncovered the incontrovertible evidence that hostess Rachel Uchitel’s plane ticket to Australia was purchased by a friend of Tiger.
“Tiger Woods is a global celebrity,” Levine
said, “but he wasn’t the type of individual we followed. He’s not Brad
and Angelina. He’s not Oprah. He’s not out like Paris Hilton and
Lindsay Lohan at the clubs. The fact is Tiger has always led a
relatively squeaky-clean lifestyle … so when that first tip came in to
us in September that he was involved in an extramarital affair,
certainly it kind of caught us by surprise.
story blew up in Australia where we caught the woman [Rachel Uchitel]
going up to Woods’ hotel suite and visiting him there and that’s when
we first went to her for comment,” Levine said. “When we finally
confronted Rachel she denied going to Australia to meet Tiger Woods.
She said she had met him once at a nightclub because she worked as a
hostess, as an events planner at a nightclub and once or twice bumped
into Tiger. In fact she told me on the telephone a few days later that
she had lied. She was obviously trying to conduct damage control so we
knew we had caught her wrapped up in a series of lies about her
relationship with Tiger Woods.”
Eventually the National
Enquirer went to Woods for comment. His lawyers responded that he and
Uchitel met in a nightclub, but there was no relationship. Woods’
denial happened several weeks before Thanksgiving and the tabloid
planned to go with the story a week before Thanksgiving while Tiger was
at a tournament in Dubai.
“We held an editorial
conference about the story,” Levine said. “Our senior editors and our
lawyers said, Let’s
give it another week.
The irony is that had we published the story the week before, the
infamous car accident might never have happened because Tiger would
have been in Dubai and his wife might have challenged him on the story
but it might have been done by phone.
“So there might
not have been this explosive argument that occurred late on Thanksgiving night. If the car
accident never happened the mainstream media might not have jumped on
the story and the details of the scandal and all
these women may not have surfaced.”
By waiting a week, one of
Levine’s reporters learned that Uchitel’s trip was paid for by one of
Tiger’s companies. “That was a bombshell because we had
actual link that Tiger Woods had paid for her trip,” Levine said.