‘Catch and kill’: Tiger Woods, Jeff Bezos and the National Enquirer
Golfer gave 12-page exclusive to Men’s Fitness in 2007 but it was all a ruse to cover affairs
Tiger Woods and wife Elin watch as Pete Sampras and Roger Federer of Switzerland play an exhibition match at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 2008. A year later the scandl broke around Woods. Photo: Nick Laham/Getty Images
To catch a tiger. The scene was a car park in Orlando, Florida shortly after six in the morning. It was the spring of 2007 and behind a top of the range Cadillac Escalade, a man and a woman were having sex. Her name was Mindy Lawton and she was a waitress earning $8 an-hour plus tips at the nearby Perkins Diner. His name was Tiger Woods and he then seemed set fair to become the world’s first billionaire athlete.
Their clandestine assignation was being spied upon and, after the couple departed in separate cars, a pair of intrepid reporters from the National Enquirer emerged to inspect the scene, one stooping to pick up a used tampon that Lawton had discarded in flagrante.
Later that summer, Woods smiled down from the cover of Men’s Fitness on newsstands across America. Wearing a sleeveless t-shirt that revealed his bulging biceps, a series of breathless headlines advertising his presence promised to reveal further information about, “How He Got Big”, “His Surprising Workout”, “Life after Earl”, “Running with Elin” and “Being a Daddy”.
Inside, readers were treated to a 12-page exclusive sit-down that included umpteen photos of his work-out routine, details about a diet that saw him add 30lbs of muscle to his frame since turning professional, and a fascinating glimpse into just how he became the most chiselled golfer in the history of the sport.
“The maturation of Tiger Woods is as much a tale of physical growth, as it is of enduring life’s emotional twists . . .” wrote Roy S Johnson in the Men’s Fitness article. “Now, through a mixture of a unique weight-training regimen, distance running, and late-blooming genes, Woods is about as fit any athlete alive.”
Golf industry insiders scratched their heads at Woods allowing his image to be so extensively exploited by Men’s Fitness, especially since Golf Digest (owned by Conde Nast) paid a seven-figure annual retainer just for exclusive access to him. Nobody knew it then but the car park tryst was the reason why.
The National Enquirer and Men’s Fitness are both owned by American Media Inc. When the former called up the Woods camp looking for a comment on their looming exposure of his marital infidelity, his agent offered a day inside Tiger’s training routine to the latter. And, the tawdry tale of his car park antics was duly spiked. Quid pro quo.
The National Enquirer is America’s leading supermarket tabloid, tawdry gossip sheets that are so-called because of their positioning by the cash register in grocery stores. For years, it has operated a “Catch and Kill” policy where it collects “compromising material” on a celebrity or politician or athlete, then offers not to run it in return for a favour of some sort.
This modus operandi has come under increased scrutiny following its most recent attempts to blackmail Amazon founder Jeff Bezos with revealing selfies he’d been sending his lover. Unlike so many others, Bezos refused to negotiate, choosing instead to go public with the emails the Enquirer sent him, exposing them for what they are.
Woods went in a different direction when he discovered they had the goods on him in 2007, back when he had the largest commercial endorsement portfolio golf had ever seen and a pristine reputation very different to the reality of his lurid and frenetic personal life. Aside from being the world’s best player, his public image was of a family man, his biggest victories hallmarked by his wife Elin beaming by the 18th green as one or other of the kids inevitably clambered into his Popeye arms.
That’s what corporate America paid the big bucks to be associated with, not somebody driving around Orlando in the early morning desperate for somewhere isolated to have a quickie with a waitress – he and Lawton ended up in the car park that particular day because his key for his office didn’t work and he was about to leave for a tournament.
Gatorade, AT&T, Gillette and Accenture didn’t think they were sponsoring a man who popped up on the Enquirer’s radar after Lawton’s own mother rang their cash for tips story line to report her daughter was having a fling with him. Those blue chip companies wanted the genius who was chasing Jack Nicklaus’ majors record not the fella chasing skirt all over the country.
One wonders did the National Enquirer come up in conversation when Tiger teed it up with Nicklaus and Donald Trump at the president’s eponymous golf club in Jupiter, Florida earlier this month. After all, nobody has profited more from his relationship with the publication than the current occupant of the White House. At one point, the Enquirer reputedly had a safe full of salacious material about Trump, including extra-marital affairs and hush money to porn stars, the type of exposés that would have long ago sunk the political ambitions of any normal candidate.
The Enquirer didn’t publish any of that sleaze due to its CEO David Pecker’s friendship with Trump. Woods, of course, was not so fortunate. His bold Men’s Fitness gambit merely bought him two more leery years on the prowl. Almost as soon as Elin took a golf club to him and his Cadillac that infamous night in November, 2009, the tabloid ran a story about Woods’ ongoing affair with Rachel Uchitel, a nightclub hostess. The first of many, many more about his secret life. Quid pro quo.