As the media stories go, Woods crashed his vehicle into a fire hydrant 50 feet from his own driveway around 2:30 Friday morning. Depending on which story you read, either he received facial lacerations in the accident, possibly when his wife used a golf club to smash a window to get him out of the vehicle, or he received facial lacerations in an altercation with his wife, which led to the accident.
Woods reportedly had interviews scheduled with the Florida Highway Patrol on both Saturday and Sunday to explain what had happened, but cancelled both interviews -- the second, by having lawyer Mark NeJame turn officers away at his door as they arrived for the meeting.
In PR, as I've discussed before on this blog, there's a standard three-part approach to dealing with embarrasing news:
1- Tell the truth,
2- Tell it first, and
3- Tell it all.
Time and time again, celebrities, politicians and lesser mortals alike have proven that trying to cover something up invariably leads to worse trouble than the initial embarrassment likely would have (if you doubt that, ask South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford if he might've done a better job of dealing with his extra-marital affair earlier this year).
Dealing with an embarrassing issue quickly and completely is like taking off a bandage: there's a sting when you pull if off quickly, but then it's over. If you drag it out, and leave some parts stuck (and needing to be removed at a later time) you're just asking to prolong the agony.
Now, I don't know if Tiger is even hiding anything -- and if he isn't, the PR response will turn out to have been even worse than if he had been. In the absence of a statement between the accident and Sunday, when he made a brief statement on his own website, the headlines went something like this:
Tiger Woods injured in minor car accident
Was Tiger Woods' car crash related to cheating on his wife?
Questions Swirl Around Tiger Woods's Car Crash
20 questions about Tiger Woods' accident
Tiger Woods' Alleged Mistress Denies Affair
Tiger Woods 911 call released, Woods, refuses to talk to police
For 3rd time, Woods cancels meeting with police
Experts to Tiger Woods: Come Clean
"Come clean" isn't exactly what Woods did in today's website statement:
"As you all know, I had a single-car accident earlier this week, and sustained some injuries. I have some cuts, bruising and right now I'm pretty sore.
This situation is my fault, and it's obviously embarrassing to my family and me. I'm human and I'm not perfect. I will certainly make sure this doesn't happen again.
This is a private matter and I want to keep it that way. Although I understand there is curiosity, the many false, unfounded and malicious rumors that are currently circulating about my family and me are irresponsible.
The only person responsible for the accident is me. My wife, Elin, acted courageously when she saw I was hurt and in trouble. She was the first person to help me. Any other assertion is absolutely false.
This incident has been stressful and very difficult for Elin, our family and me. I appreciate all the concern and well wishes that we have received. But, I would also ask for some understanding that my family and I deserve some privacy no matter how intrusive some people can be."
While I do feel badly for celebrities when they have to deal with difficult personal situations and can't get any peace, the fact is that celebrities knowingly give up some privacy in exchange for the millions they earn from their fans (whether directly through album sales, or indirectly through endorsements). Whether or not we think it's fair, it is what it is. And until Woods comes out with the facts, for the time being, at least, there are many people who'll be delighted to profit by making them up for him.
There's a tough way to handle a situation like this -- which is to get out right away and tell the whole, true story, warts and all, then go away and wait for something else to take over the public's insatiable need for controversy -- and then there's a tougher way.