Thursday, December 3, 2009

Silence Is His Virtue

In Tiger Woods' recent apology, posted on his website, he makes an interesting statement: "...for me, the virtue of privacy is one that must be protected in matters that are intimate and within one's own family."

I'm not certain if he is talking about privacy as a personal virtue or one that he believes should be exhibited by the media (and the consumers of media). But privacy--or the respect of privacy--as I suspect Woods means, is not one of the virtues that I think you'll find in Aristotle's writings. Regardless, his reticence on the topic of his private life following his minor car accident, has been framed by Woods as a virtue and he is implying, I think, that the world at large should demonstrate that same virtue of privacy and allow him and his family to work out their problems behind closed doors.

Clearly, he is trying to regain some equilibrium in the face of some transgressions (whatever they may be) on his part. He may have failed his family and himself by succumbing to a moral weakness, but he is nevertheless holding on to his virtue of silence in the face of this. His silence seems integral to his commitment to his family. But can--or should--he expect the same from the public and the media?

The common argument that arises when celebrities ask for privacy is that because they are outrageously famous, they should expect that all of their dirty laundry will be aired in public. The old, "comes with the territory" argument. But as a justification for these acts of tabloid journalism, I think it is a weak argument when looked at in an ethical framework. What indeed is the benefit from airing Woods' (or other celebrities') dirty laundry? Unlike the benefits of a press that uncovers political corruption, does revealing Woods' personal failings somehow benefit our society? An informed citizenry is accepted as a critical element of democracy. But is there a greater good that is being achieved by digging for these details? The freedom of the press is almost without bounds in our country and that has shown over and over again to be elemental to the success of democracy in the United States. But is knowledge of Woods' private indiscretions vital to our functioning democracy?

I'm not convinced that respecting the privacy of celebrities is the virtue we will find in either individual members of the press or the media they represent. Perhaps some occasional discretion is the most we can hope for. At least I think that is the most that TIger Woods can hope for.

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