Tuesday, April 15, 2003

With malice towards none...

In the aftermath of Martha Burk's defeat at Augusta, I feel the need to offer some charity. Not towards Burk, mind you, but towards some of her misguided defenders in the media. Specifically Christine Brennan of USA Today, whose initial writings on Augusta's all-male policy caught Burk's attention a year ago. In many pro-Augusta quarters, Brennan has been maligned as Burk's chief instigator. This strikes me as somehwat unfair, especially coming from certain individuals. One such individual is John Feinstein, a former colleague of Brennan's at the Washington Post, who put out this thinly-veiled attack in his weekly AOL sports column:

Burk has been wrong -- factually, philosophically and ethically -- so often since this fiasco began that she has actually managed to turn most neutral parties and even some who agree with her in principle against her. In fact, she has done the nearly impossible: turned the membership of Augusta National, one of the least sympathetic groups of people in America, into sympathetic figures in the eyes of many.

Most women in American -- and most reasonable men -- probably agree with the notion that there should be female members at Augusta National, if only because it would be a symbolic gesture, an acknowledgment because the club conducts a public event once a year it is different than other private clubs.

But almost no one sees the issue as the cause celebre that Burk, The New York Times and one self-promoting columnist at USA Today have attempted to turn it into.

Now, to be fair, there is more than one "self-promoting columnist" at USA Today. I can think of at least three. But in this context, Feinstein is clearly referring to Brennan, who he refers to later in his column as the "look-at-me columnist."

Frankly, this sort of name calling is unnecessary. And Feinstein shouldn't be throwing stones at glass houses. He's widely regarded—even among colleagues—as a sanctimonious know-it-all, the stereotypical sportswriter who considers himself a total cognitive authority on all things sport.

There's also the rank hypocrisy. After all, aren't most sports columnists self-promoting by nature? They're trying to sell themselves as personalities, not just writers. Many columnists also write books they seek to sell (Feinstein himself is one of the best book writers out there.) Some columnists even do television, also a self-promotion vehicle. So simply labeling Brennan "self-promoting" says nothing about the validity of her actions or her causes.

Columnists are not news reporters. They are expected to hold strong opinions with the intent of influencing people. In this vain, Brennan did nothing wrong in stating her views on Augusta's membership. No line was crossed there. Burk crossed the line when she resorted to threats and intimidation against Augusta and its corporate partners. To my knowledge, Brennan never participated in those kind of activities. Indeed, if one media reporter sticks out in my mind as violating ethical norms, it's Len Shapiro of the Washington Post, who routinely ignored facts inconvenient to his own anti-Augusta position. It was Shapiro who led a media lynching when Tiger Woods wouldn't morally condemn Augusta (thus demonstrating Woods lacked a "social conscience" in the eyes of Shapiro and colleague Michael Wilbon.)

Now, I've been critical of Brennan myself at times. Some of her arguments against Augusta were purely emotionalist and lacked substantial reasoning. But at the same time, I've always considered Brennan's criticism of Augusta to be well intentioned. She is clearly a golf fan and someone who views Augusta's policies as harmful to the club's image. Burk, on the other hand, is a manipulative figure who set out to destroy the Masters. I've never read any similar malicious intent in Brennan's writings on this subject. Thus, it's patently unfair for Feinstein to single her out for condemnation in this fiasco.

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