Tiger, don’t say anything. Not another word. The future of civilization — such as it is — depends on it.

Overstated, but there is a serious point here: Woods’ determined silence in the aftermath of his wee-hours encounter with a fire hydrant is a timely antidote to the too-much-information celebrity culture.

Woods is the converse of the loathsome White House party crashers. They crave celebrity and seem willing to do anything, no matter how humiliating, to obtain it. The golfer is drowning in celebrity and craves privacy — so much, in fact, that he chose it as the name for his 155-foot yacht. He likes to scuba-dive, he once said, because “the fish don’t know who I am.”

Michaele Salahi, who with her husband crashed the White House party, would have taken pictures of herself posing with the fish — and posted it on her Facebook fan page. “MICHAELE with parrotfish at exclusive swim party!”

In the aftermath of what he delicately called his “single-car accident,” Woods issued an assertively unilluminating statement.

The “situation,” as he put it, “is my fault, and it’s obviously embarrassing to my family and me. I’m human and I’m not perfect. … This is a private matter and I want to keep it that way. Although I understand there is curiosity, the many false, unfounded and malicious rumors that are currently circulating about my family and me are irresponsible. … I would also ask for some understanding that my family and I deserve some privacy no matter how intrusive some people can be.”

This is, apparently, not part of the crash-and-tell celebrity handbook, in which the stumble must be followed, ASAP, by the televised confession. Or the public check-in to rehab. Or both. Garbo Talks has become Garbo Tweets. “I want to be left alone” fits within the 140-character limit, but not within the modern ethos in which the only real choice is whether to give it all up to People or to Us Weekly.

I’m unburdened here by much knowledge of (a) golf or (b) Woods, and I see that, with many of my sportswriting colleagues, Woods is paying a price for his long-standing attitude of churlish entitlement. Or is that entitled churlishness? Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins once described Woods’ attitude as that of “a spoiled Venetian princess.”

Jenkins’ post-crash column was a devastating, well-executed — and for all I know, well-deserved — smackdown: “The fact that I have pocketed $1 billion for being a public figure, in prize checks, appearance fees and commercial endorsements,” wrote Jenkins-as-Tiger, “does not mean anyone, especially the police and the media, can ask perfectly reasonable questions that I have no intention of ever answering, since such disclosures would apparently reveal I am not entirely who I appear to be.”

Certainly, the police get to ask whatever they want, and to demand whatever answers are legally required. Certainly, sponsors get to take the public figure’s conduct into account in deciding whether they want his endorsement. But does pocketing $1 billion mean you are obliged to ante up intimate personal details?

There is a blurring of the lines here between public figure and public servant, between potentially criminal and merely titillating. If Woods were an elected official — say, a governor of South Carolina who disappeared to go visit his Argentine mistress, or a governor of New York in a hotel room with a prostitute — the public would have a right to know what was going on at 2 a.m.

If he were a public figure accused of a crime — Michael Vick and dog fighting; Chris Brown and domestic abuse — there would be a legitimate public interest in unearthing the facts. If he were a wannabe public figure who evidently committed an outrage and may have committed a crime — Michaele and Tareq Salahi come to mind — there would be every reason to demand an explanation.

And if Woods decided, à la David Letterman, that his interests would best be served by an on-air, pre-emptive mea culpa, that would be fine — although I, for one, am glad to be spared another excruciating Hugh-Grant-on-Leno’s-couch moment. It’s his choice, not his obligation. For the record, though: Even if Woods, as the National Enquirer has alleged, was having a fling with a former New York nightclub hostess — there’s a difference between that adulterous behavior and having sex with people who work for you.

As to Tiger’s behavior, I don’t know. I don’t want to know. Tiger, thank you for not sharing.

Ruth Marcus’ e-mail address is marcusr(at symbol)washpost.com.

© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

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