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Sham of the Year: Frank Rich, Tiger Woods and that Anti-Obama Op-Ed

From the Big House to the White House, Pebble Beach to Pennsylvania Avenue, articles such as Frank Rich's confirm the nefarious notion that successful minorities should still feel "lucky just to be there".
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"Burying the lede" is one of the oldest tricks in journalism -- hiding a story's singular scoop (or coup) deep in its middle or end. Although often the sign of an amateur, an expertly-embedded lede can actually embellish an article's key conceits which may -- at their core -- simply be full of hot air.

Such is the case with Frank Rich's recent Op-Ed "Tiger Woods, Person of the Year". In it, the New York Times scribe reaches new highs in the buried-lede lows as he spends some 1,500 words deconstructing the past decade only to end up pillorying President Obama's brief tenure in its last graph.

Detailed, densely-worded and ultimately disheartening, Rich's piece uses the current Tiger Wood's debacle as a metaphor for the sham-tastic, smoke-and-mirrors atmosphere that has defined the last 10 years. From the Enron collapse to the reality TV boom, the "toxic assets" trail to hustler-lover Ted Haggard, the 21st century -- at least according to Rich -- is being defined by Tiger-styled bamboozlement.

America may certainly be caught in a pathological culture of crap, but Tiger Woods is hardly its mascot. Nor does he epitomize, as Rich suggests, fundamental societal shortcomings far graver than the 9/11 attacks. Tiger's troubles -- particularly as they relate to his sponsors -- do confirm the type of blind faith and shoddy due diligence that cost Accenture millions and Enron billions.

Yet while Tiger may be a cad, he's certainly no con like Kenneth Lay or Bernie Madoff. For it is the Woodses who will ultimately pay the price for his malfeasance -- not thousands of nameless shareholders or faceless individual investors. Folks like Lay and Madoff are villains, criminals, law-breakers. Tiger Woods -- albeit on a grand scale -- is just another philandering shmuck!

The ease with which Rich conflates pop, business and political culture is particularly potent -- forming the foundation for his final paragraph's Obama take-down. Early on Rich is careful to insist that Tiger's tale "has nothing to tell us about race". Perhaps. But the racial implications of Rich's own tale cannot be so easily ignored.

Indeed, Rich -- a former theater critic and longtime Times man -- clearly knows his way around themes and tropes. And race colorfully inhabits both devices in this op-ed. Despite his claim to the contrary, by selecting America's most-famous multi-culti Black men as his chief protagonists, Rich cannot help but place race at the center of his narrative. Equally key are the similarities between the Obama and Woods stories; minorities at the peak of their success in traditionally all-White environments.

Far more worrisome than the appearance of race in Rich's piece is that at times it even begins to hew towards racism. Here again, the Tiger-Obama tie-in is crucial. Because in declaring Tiger a fraud (and suggesting Obama is a sham) Rich resorts to the most base form of White privilege and prejudice -- ignoring minority achievement and denying their right to its spoils.

I am certainly no Tiger fan and I know almost nothing about golf. But I do know that Woods more than earned his place at the sport's pinnacle. He wasn't elected a champ or appointed one by some inept corporate board, but rather swung his way to success thanks to talent, coaching and a lot of hard work. Same with Pres. Obama -- who was elected to the presidency after perhaps the hardest-fought campaign of the past half-century. Folks may differ on the President's performance so far, but no one can say he did not deserve his inauguration.

By linking this duo with losers like Lay, buffoons like the Balloon Family -- and the reality culture of the entire past decade -- Rich erases Tiger and Obama's accomplishments, or at least strives to render them hollow. Along the way he churlishly, erroneously and offensively implies that both men might never have actually achieved much in the first place. Obama-adulation and Tiger's "beatific image", Rich spuriously suggests, were little more than a farce, a sham -- a bamboozle.

Even at the height of the charade known as George W's presidency, no one ever questioned the Texan's right to the Oval Office. Yet from Birthers and Teabaggers, to Glenn Beck and most recently Rich himself, Pres. Obama has not escaped such scrutiny. Far more damaging, as evidenced by the hundreds of comments his article received, Rich has now given America carte blanche to do as well.

So, so uncool!

From the Big House to the White House, Pebble Beach to Pennsylvania Avenue, articles such as Rich's confirm the nefarious notion that successful minorities should still feel "lucky just to be there". They also suggest that even when glass ceilings are finally broken, the thin air outside means people-of-color can never truly exhale.

Frank Rich is clearly concerned about the President. Yet whether worried about a disaffected right or disappointed left, by burying his fears in his finale, Rich has punked-out on making his point writ large. In the process, he's stirred up a rich stew insincerely and unnecessarily spiked with race-based rhetoric.

As a card-carrying member of Team Elin, I wholly agree that Tiger owes an explanation to his family, his fans and his corporate funders. But to Frank Rich, Woods owes nothing. As for Barack Obama -- much like every man who's inhabited the White House -- the President is definitely lucky to be there. Unlike Obama's immediate predecessor, however, America is actually lucky to have him.