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Hal, Hootie, & the Masters

Here is a compelling column at SI.com on the 2003 media firestorm created by Martha Burk, Hootie Johnson, and Hal Raines over Augusta National's all-male membership. The column is an excerpt from Alan Shipnuck's The Battle for Augusta National, an appropriate title.

Here' the plot, as I see it. Burk, described by one of the battle's protagonists as an "attack activist," found an issue to exploit. Her effort was successful - everyone now knows of Martha Burk, women's activist. Few did before the controversy.

Hootie Johnson sensed Augusta was being used in this way. He refused to "be bullied" when Burk took the issue public, which was surely her intention all along. Hal Raines, editor of the New York Times, saw an opportunity to raise the national profile of the paper with the issue. Shipnuck's account makes this crystal clear. Raines began to "flood the zone" (his term) with story after story on the issue. Many of them simply didn't make sense. The Times was on a mission, and its objective was a social one, not journalism per se.

Ultimately, the Times' coverage of the Augusta flap revealed more than anything to date that an ideological agenda was inherent in Raines' editorship. Shipnuck's story highlights the role of internet commentary by Kaus, Reynolds, Shafer, and Sullivan in making this case, while the mainstream media was initially silent. With this well established, the Raines regime was toppled when the Blair affair, a case of serious mistakes in judgement with a similar activist undercurrent, was exposed. The Masters flap was the opening act in the downfall of Hall Raines.

The one issue that has always puzzled me in this saga is the basis for Johnson's scathing public letter to Burk at the outset of the controversy. It was more than a defense of Augusta National; its scathing and intemperate tone fanned the flames of the issue. It was clear that it would incite further criticism of the golf club. In an odd way however, this had a salutary effect in the end, as Raines fell into a trap, and the Times was rescued from an ideological takeover. But that remote outcome could not have been Johnson's intent, so the reason for issuing that letter remains a puzzle. Perhaps Shipnuck's book offers an explanation.

Footnote 1: Read Shipnuck's piece when you have a few moments. Its a long, and rich in information. A single excerpt here would not do it justice. Note also - based on his prior work, I'm pretty sure that Shipnuck is not a reflexive defender of Hootie or Augusta.

Footnote 2: Eric McErlain is a Hootie defender, on the basis of principle. Read his post, "Who Is Hootie Johnson," to learn important facts about the man that Raines would never print. I've linked this before, but it's a hall of famer, and deserves a reprint.