When Martha Burk began her ladies of the camo underwear assault on the membership policy of Augusta National Golf Club, the Center for Individual Freedom viewed it as a brief opportunity to remind of a bedrock constitutional right - free association.
While often overlooked or forgotten, it's a simple concept, simply explained.Ê Private groups and individuals have the constitutional right to associate with whom they wish, excluding others.Ê Exclusion from membership in a private club does not mean discrimination.Ê The right of free association and the parameters thereof are settled law.
From some na•ve comments Ms. Burk has made, in particular citing case law that is off point, she seems to have understood neither the Constitution nor the law when she began jousting with the green-blazered burghers of Augusta, not unusual among activists who make it up as they go.Ê With no legal case and not even the legal standing to bring one, Burk now insists that Augusta's acceptance of female members is a moral imperative.Ê How the intimidation of a private club to force the sacrifice of its constitutional protections is moral escapes our limited intellect, but then we've never been able to grasp the nuances of situational morality.
The new New York Times not only supports Burk's moral high dudgeon, the increasingly aggressive newspaper has turned a weird, tangential social clash into an obsessive cause celebre, comparable to its persistent campaign for campaign finance reform, and no more respectful of the constitutional issues.
In fact, the Times has written almost three dozen pieces on Augusta, on both news and editorial pages, which are becoming harder and harder to differentiate.Ê Two columnists, who either did not get or did not follow the attack Augusta policy memo, got spiked.Ê We have always thought the purpose of columnists is to write what they think, but the principles of journalism seem to be, in some heads, as fluid as interpretations of the Constitution.Ê After days during which the Times editorial tactics became the story for everyone else, the newspaper relented and published the columns.
Without the volume and firepower of the Times effort, Burk's war, which has attracted support from relatively few of the usual activist suspects, probably would have fizzled shortly after its opening salvos.Ê As it stands, Burk has been reduced to the role of field lieutenant in her own war, left to debate the Center for Individual Freedom and others on television while the Times commands and controls the heavy ordinance campaign, laying down fields of advocacy napalm against an enemy dug in like a gopher on a green.
While the Times carpet bombing of Augusta - including calls for Tiger Woods to boycott the Masters Tournament and for CBS not to broadcast it - is perhaps odd, it follows the directive of Executive Editor Howell Raines to "flood the zone" with screed on a given subject.
That Raines is a white southern populist writer/editor - complete with white panama hat and a fondness for the sayings of Bear Bryant, the legendary University of Alabama football coach - might, to some armchair psychoanalysts, explain the sustained attack on Augusta as an institutional symbol of establishment tradition and power.
Whatever the motivation, the Times it is a changing.Ê There are many points to discuss about a newspaper that was, throughout most of its existence, a national treasure of journalistic excellence and responsibility.Ê For the moment, however, one point is particularly relevant to discussions of Augusta.Ê The New York Times and all its brethren in the Fourth Estate, are free to write, to publish as they choose through the grace of a few words on an old piece of paper.
It's a good piece of paper, that U.S. Constitution, brilliant in its sweep and its simplicity.Ê As it protects the Times so, too, does it protect the membership policy of Augusta National Golf Club.Ê As you live by one right, you should respectfully observe the other.Ê Erosion of any clause, any phrase, any protection is a threat to the whole.
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