Apr
7
2012
Karen Crouse: wronged and wrong in nearly equal measure
By Conor Nagle under The Masters

Billy Payne does his best to ignore the woman in the front row... or not.

The controversy surrounding Augusta National’s refusal to countenance female membership has broken the fourth wall and sparked a high-profile, if localised, revolt within the Masters press corps.

Speaking to Sports Illustrated’s Damon Hack in the wake of Augusta chairman Billy Payne’s underwhelming performance at Wednesday’s pre-tournament press conference, during which the erstwhile financier was pressed on the issue of IBM executive Virginia Rometty’s eligibility for membership, New York Times reporter Karen Crouse expressed her frustration:

“If it were left to me, which it seldom is in the power structure of writer versus editor, I’d probably not come cover this event again until there is a woman member… More and more, the lack of a woman member is just a blue elephant in the room.”

The remarks, though born of a deep and abiding sense of injustice, nevertheless transgressed the border separating the paper of record from its subject matter, compromising the factual integrity of her account in the process.

The interview earned Crouse a public reprimand from New York Times sports editor Joe Sexton, who was unambiguous in his comdemnation of the interview, branding its content “wholly inappropriate”.

Set against a contextual background of institutionalised sexism and the moral complacency with which golf journalism at-large has helped expunge Augusta National’s often abhorrent practices from the public record, Sexton’s editorial intervention took on the character of a patriarchal beatdown.

As political parlance would have it: the optics of the exchange were unfortunate.

And so we enter an ethical no man’s land, where a moment of profound professional indiscipline – not, it should be noted, Crouse’s first as a golf journalist – has yielded an aggregate moral victory.

The fruits of her unilateral intervention can be read today in a number of the nation’s most prominent publications, outlets usually unmoved by the persistence of archaic administrative practices at Georgian country clubs, and on Twitter, where a massive public outcry has bestowed upon her a rare form of martyrdom.

Golf has room for journalistic crusades, attempts to assail and overturn the propagandistic myths to which the sport has long proven susceptible, but accuracy and professional dignity are casualties it can ill afford, even in the pursuit of civil rights and transparency.

Conor Nagle