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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Monday, January 20, 2003
12:48 AM

Augusta Redux... Let us not end this day on a despondent International ANSWER note--the blogosphere has done a splendid job both of revealing the brutal political allegiances of its master, the Workers World Party, and the nearly universal failure of mainstream media to acknowledge it. And because of that, the truth will out in a way that was not possible ten or fifteen years ago.

Instead, let's take another look at Augusta media consultant Jim McCarthy's extraordinary column on page four of the sports pages in Sunday's edition. Titled a Letter to the Editor; Responding to Augusta Coverage it's reminiscent of a recent piece by NFL player repGene Upshaw that also exposed some pretty serious failures in coverage. For reporters and editors, it's exceptional for this kind of thing to appear in the middle of your home turf. Excerpts:

I'm one of millions who believe that single-gender clubs, schools or organizations, whether it's Augusta National, St. Albans, the Junior League, Wellesley College or the LPGA, are a positive and beneficial part of American life. They are also a vital constitutional freedom, one that benefits both men and women. But when Augusta's membership policy was negatively singled out last July, The Post immediately ran with it as a sex discrimination story. In my view, a pattern of unbalanced, opinionated reporting has been ongoing in more than two dozen news articles and counting....

What are McCarthy's main points? Very simple and to my eyes very well documented: The Post--and we're talking mainly if not completely about Leonard Shapiro--has covered only one side of the story--

In Shapiro's Dec. 12 article, for example, 85 lines were given over to quotes critical of the club's policy. Though there were several sources who said the club is a responsible member of the Augusta community, The Post has yet to quote any independent source who believes the club is rightly standing behind valid principles...

It has failed to portray both sides of the dispute even when it had them--

Then there is Lee Smith, head of an independent organization that distributes the contributions that the club makes to charities each year. Smith provided The Post with a detailed breakdown of those donations that totaled $7.25 million just since 1997. He also provided The Post an additional written statement that read, "You will not find a better corporate citizen than the Augusta National. They have quietly given back substantial dollars to this community and other charitable causes for years. And, they have never been known to boast or brag about their charitable giving or the tremendous economic impact this community receives from the Masters tournament."

In a story that purports to reveal how local residents view the club, why was none of this information included? ...

It has printed false and incomplete information--

The Post article reported that the club receives favorable treatment from the state's tax assessment of its property value. In my view, that is false. Shapiro quotes only an unnamed source -- a "city employee" -- to support the assertion. Following up on the story, an Augusta reporter from WAGT-TV, went to the assessor's office and actually looked at the equation used to make state tax assessments. He used it to compare the assessment of four other large businesses in Augusta with that of the club. He reported that the club's assessment is, in fact, entirely accurate and consistent with those other businesses in the area. WAGT also quoted the county tax assessor, Sonny Reece, saying that The Post story was "misleading and wrong."..

And tried to keep the story alive in the absence of actual news--

On Jan. 1, The Post Sports section ran yet another front-page piece by Shapiro titled "Burk Ponders Strategy; She May Ask Members of Augusta to Resign." Since when does "pondering" qualify as a major news story, especially when Burk's resignation demands were reported exhaustively by The Post on Nov. 13?..

And of course it just might be possible that all of these errors are the result of Shapiro's personal opinion--

Mr. Shapiro, for instance, wrote in a "Golf Notebook" on July 11 that the timetable for Augusta National admitting women "ought to be now."...

An opinion to which Shapiro is royally entitled if he and his editors can satisfy the basic requirements of Journalism 101.

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