LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Golfer Tiger Woods underestimated the pervasive power of the celebrity media in exposing his double life and his renewed pleas for privacy are unlikely to be honored in an era when scandal is big business, media experts said on Saturday.
Woods, the most lauded golfer of his generation, has seen his squeaky-clean image crumble with a sex scandal that has made him the butt of jokes and put his alleged mistresses on the front pages of celebrity magazines and featured prominently on national television.
And it's not likely to end any time soon, despite Woods admitting to infidelity and asking on Friday for "the time, privacy and safe haven we will need for personal healing."
"It is selling magazines. It is increasing traffic to Web sites. Celebrity media is a business, and while Tiger's business is going under, the media is doing beautifully," said Hollywood public relations veteran Howard Bragman.
Bragman described Woods, who has been in hiding since the scandal broke with a bizarre car crash on Nov 27, as "a hunted man." A photo of Woods, with possible facial injuries from the accident, would fetch up to $1 million, he said.
Jim Bates, a crisis management consultant with the Los Angeles firm Sitrick Brincko, said it was unrealistic for Woods to hope to escape the media frenzy in an age in which anyone can take pictures on mobile phones and have them up on the Internet in a few minutes.
"The celebrity media is so pervasive. It's very competitive and aggressive -- exponentially more so than 20 years ago. And the mainstream media is very much more involved now in celebrity news," said Bates, whose company's clients include the Michael Jackson estate.
It's not just news outlets that have jumped on the Tiger Woods story. Satirical TV sketch show "Saturday Night Live" spoofed him a week ago and TV chat show host Jay Leno has been running a nightly "Tiger Tote Board" counting the number of women (13 by Friday) claiming or reported to have had sex with the married golfer.
One website, dailycomedy.com, had collected some 543 Tiger Woods jokes by Saturday. An animated game called "Tiger Hunting," which has Woods dodging obstacles in his SUV pursued by a golf-club wielding blond, had been played 1.7 million times since December 1 on website break.com.
Bonnie Fuller, former editor in chief of Us Weekly magazine who now runs the website HollywoodLife.com, rejects the notion that Woods has been hounded.
"He dug his own hole. ... He was leading a whole other second life that was the complete opposite of his image. That's what has gotten him into trouble," Fuller said.
"It's the women who have come forward. It's not like the media had to go digging. He said too little initially and did not come out personally. That fueled the speculation, and there was disappointment among his fans that he didn't step up and admit it sooner," she said.
Fuller and Bates suggested Woods, who has more experience with sports journalists than celebrity media, could help himself by doing a TV interview with the trusted media personalities like Oprah Winfrey or Diane Sawyer.
"At some point, he needs to tell the story himself and do it in a way that sounds sincere and not like he is doing it for sponsorship deals," said Bates.
Steve Helling, who has covered Woods for seven years for People magazine, said celebrity media was a different creature from the golf media where Woods' handlers have been able to vet questions and restrict access to friendly sports reporters.
"Tiger Woods has been able to use the media over the years to develop his persona. Now he is learning that the media cuts both ways, and it is a rude awakening," Helling said.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by Todd Eastham