The hazards of Howelling

Posted: Dec 10, 2002 12:00 AM
Politicians aren't the only public figures who feel so strongly about an issue they ultimately become the story. Peek at the imploding so-called newsroom of Howell Raines, executive editor of the New York Times. Since last July, the paper's obsessive liberal crusade against all-male membership at the Augusta National Golf Club, site of the annual Masters tournament, has added up to more than 40 stories and editorials. But when sports columnists Dave Anderson and Harvey Araton dissented a bit from the Raines line, their columns were spiked, a journalistic breach that inflamed reporters inside and outside the Times. Some freedom of the press. You can have an opinion at the New York Times -- as long as it reflects the opinion of Howell Raines. After a thorough roasting by conservatives and liberals alike, Raines surrendered and published the columns. Upon reading them, you would wonder why on Earth they would be smothered. They both toed the liberal line and argued that the male-only membership policy at Augusta should and would be dissolved. Araton's piece argued that there were larger fights for female athletes, but added the high-profile of media attention made Martha Burk, the leading feminist scold of the crusade, a powerful force against any "regression" against female athletes at the Olympics or in federal intercollegiate sports policies. Anderson insisted his column was barely touched. He wrote that Augusta club chairman William "Hootie" Johnson would certainly knuckle under eventually, and then his resistance would look silly. Anderson simply took issue with the editorial page's insistence that Tiger Woods forfeit his golf career and his prize money to increase the profile of this fight. He advocated letting the golfers golf and the activists act. That's not a conservative viewpoint, unless it's conservative to oppose the politicization of everything and everyone. Why did the Times shoot itself in the foot by making such a stink out of nothing? Perhaps when editors are involved with crusades with activist allies like Burk, they become more interested in maintaining their political alliances than in maintaining the notion of freewheeling debate. Being politically correct demands not allowing the incorrect to gain any corner of the newspaper. Raines and his managing editor, Gerald Boyd, accomplished nothing with their ham-handed "editing" except to underline how they value political impact more than their journalistic reputations. The end (cracking open a country club membership) justified the means (internal spiking). In initially refusing to apologize, Boyd told the Washington Post, "We're writing about discrimination at one of the nation's most prestigious golf clubs and involving one of the world's most prominent tournaments. It's an important story, economically, socially, politically, gender-wise, racially. I don't know what it means to write too much about it." Spoken like a true ideologue. That most political attitude -- there's never enough coverage until we win -- led to empty, agenda-pounding front-page stories like "CBS Staying Silent on Women Joining Augusta," which was almost as important as "CBS Doesn't Do What Raines Wants." There is no news in these stories. In fact, no one
cares whether one golf club somewhere is still males-only. Over the years, the Times has kissed the rings of oppressors from Fidel Castro to Daniel Ortega to Leonid Brezhnev. Now they're concerned about oppression -- at a golf club? To somehow suggest that opposing Hootie Johnson's club rules is comparable to facing down the hoses of Bull Connor in the segregated South is beyond laughable. It echoes the off-kilter, liberal moral sensibilities of the Clinton years, when the White House crusaded against the evils of cigarette makers and Microsoft, while Osama bin Laden plotted in the desert largely untouched. As silly as Raines and Boyd look now, no one should ignore that they are doing their own boss's doing. Times Publisher Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger Jr. has made crusades for "diversity" and the fancies and fetishes of "identity politics" part of the Times job description. He handpicked Raines from the editorial page with liberal activism in mind. His reign has been celebrated for promoting Boyd, an African American, to the upper reaches of the Times, and Gail Collins, the paper's first female editorial-page editor. So it's easy to see that any writer standing in the way of extending the demands for "affirmative action" to every corner of America could find his article in the garbage can. You could call it "all the news that's fit for Pinch."