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Is the U.S. media to blame for Michelle Wie's sad decline?

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Just what American journalists need, or want: a lecture from the British media on Michelle Wie.

Michelle Wie
Michelle Wie has been in free-fall of late. Is it the American media's fault?
Michelle Wie

Mark Reason of London's Telegraph chides "some elements" of the American media about the way young phenom and 12-year-old golfer Alexis Thompson is being presented in the media.

"The girl is portrayed as a smiling, pigtailed Disney character without a care in the world," Reason writes. "Maybe she is or maybe she is a disaster waiting to happen, like so many other American sports-girls who were hot-housed at a ridiculously young age."

Then Reason ties in the sad case of Wie to further chide the USGA, urging them to impose a minimum age of 16 to "put an end to these potentially damaging freak shows ..."

This, from a member of what is arguably the world's most exploitive media. The British press makes Keith Richards look restrained. Yeah, they sure handled that Princess Diana mess with dignity, didn't they? The British media should self-impose a minimum I.Q. on itself.

It's irritating, but it does raise a legitimate question. How much should the media - the worldwide media - be held accountable for Wie's current, sad collapse?

Wie hasn't broken par since last July. Her wrist injuries have led to a serious implosion that have many wondering if she will ever recover. The days of her challenging the men are over, at least for the foreseeable future. She'll be lucky if she can be a contender with the women again.

Even worse to witness is her emotional fragility. She seems to be on the verge of tears at her press conferences. She is clearly dazed and bewildered, saying things like how rounds over 80 - coming more and more now - are not that bad.

Her entourage - parents, agents, marketers, hangers-on - clearly have no good advice for her.

You would think they would at least have a clue as to how to help repair her public image - her parents for obvious reasons, her sponsors for business reasons.

It's obvious she had no business trying to compete in the U.S. Women's Open, withdrawing in the second round with no chance of maintaining a shred of dignity. Is there no competent doctor in the Wie camp, someone with the guts to tell her not to play?

She is certainly being crushed right before our eyes by the heavy burden of expectation.

But I suggest the enormous pressures on this gangly teenager comes more from her own camp as it does from the media. First of all, there is her enormous potential. Everyone loves young phenoms. The public has a voracious appetite for new, new, new, especially when it's six-feet tall and model-thin, and hits it 300 yards off the tee.

Potential combined with star power and raw ambition is even a better story. This is a girl who very publicly set her sights on not just conquering her own gender, but on the Masters and U.S. Men's Open as well. For a brief time there, it actually seemed possible.

The media just feeds that appetite.

Secondly, that appetite is just as raw when it comes to the mighty falling, especially when it's tinged by arrogance and just plain bad manners. Even many of Wie's die-hard supporters turned against her when she treated Annika Sorenstam, a great champion as well as one classy dame, shabbily.

Then, there is the matter of money. Wie got filthy rich before she actually won anything of consequence, signing that multi-million endorsement contract with Nike. Wie and Nike didn't exactly hide their arrangement. Nike wanted its new "brand" to be as public as possible.

Americans don't mind their stars being obscenely rich. We don't even mind them getting rich before they've accomplished anything. But when they don't come through, and in such an unseemly way as Wie, we start to turn on them. I think we're not exactly unique in that way.

The best thing for Wie right now would be to rest and rehab well out of the public spotlight.

Make no mistake, Wie and her camp used the media expertly on its way up. Now that they've hit a major speed bump, after using that relationship to full financial gain, can they legitimately ask all of us to go away?

I doubt that you - and I'm including even those oh-so-sensitive members of the British press - would allow it.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Well Done!

    Kampfy1 wrote on: Jul 10, 2007

    This is one of the best articles I've read at this site in a long long time. I'm very impressed with the approach you've taken and delivered against.
    It is so incredibly sad to see someone waste away like this.
    I wonder if the media really could give someone a break once and a while too. As much as I love the Brits, you're right about them as well. They do seem to love pointing out American flaws before they look at themselves.
    Thank you for a great read.


  • Media and Wie

    ronmon wrote on: Jul 5, 2007

    The answer: none. Put the blame squarely on the greed of the Wie family, their failure to properly restrain their daughter's impulse to speed the whole process up, and a need for acceptance at a variety of competitive levels. What is her competitive record? How many victories before or after that fateful USGA Public Links took place? While you're at it, blame Nike, too. They invested too much, too early. Rather than build on their success with a 20-year old Tiger, they jumped the gun on a 17-year old kid and have paid the price.


  • The Telegraph

    David wrote on: Jul 2, 2007

    This 17 year old girl is suffering a drop in form due in no small part to having to deal with her first serious injury and while in this unknown territory she is being bullied and attacked from all quarters by the media. Personally I think it's disgusting and another sad example of the 'build 'em and and knock 'em down' mentality that the media so cruelly propagate.
    BTW The Telegraph is a world respected broadsheet newspaper and is nothing like the tabloid gutter press that you are bundling it in with.


    • RE: The Telegraph

      tim wrote on: Jul 5, 2007

      I understand that, and you're right -- I did give that mistaken impression, but the basic premise holds -- a British journalist criticizing the American media, though it certainly deserves to be criticized in many respects, is a trifle hilarious, given that country's media excesses.
      Even if he does work for the Telegraph, and even if his sentences aren't as awkward as the above.


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