Press Box

Give the New York Times a Mulligan

Call off the dogs: Its editors only goofed in spiking the Augusta columns.

The New York Daily News reports today that the editors of the New York Times spiked two recent sports columns about the men-only controversy at the Augusta National Golf Course. As Dave Anderson, one of the spiked columnists, put it, “It was decided by the editors that we should not argue with the editorial page.”

The Times’ crusade against the men-only membership policy of Augusta National has produced more than 40 news stories, commentaries, or editorials in the Times since the controversy broke in July. By almost any measure, the paper’s coverage of Augusta has shifted from overdrive to overkill.

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Howell Raines haters everywhere (I’m not one) are having a glorious time over the spiking of Anderson’s piece. The column dissented from the Times editorial that urged Tiger Woods to help lift the ban on women members at Augusta by boycotting the Masters tournament, which the course hosts. According to the Daily News, Times columnist Harvey Araton is believed to have argued in a separate killed piece that women have more important battles to wage than admittance to an exclusive golf club.

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The idea that a sports column—or any other column in the paper—must harmonize with a newspaper’s editorial page is so preposterous that one can only assume that Gerald Boyd, the Times managing editor who appears to have made the call on Anderson’s column, was sleep deprived or experiencing a brain aneurysm when he instructed sports editor Neil Amdur to deliver the spike. (This is, of course, assuming that Dave Anderson’s account of the spiking is accurate.)

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Of course, a newspaper isn’t a debate society in which every writer is authorized to soapbox at will, and God forbid that the New York Times should become a Village Voice circle-jerk society. But it makes no sense to recruit columnists for the sole purpose of expressing their opinions and then spike them when their views clash with the editorial page’s. The twin spikes reverse the orthodox notion that the news pages of the Times contain facts and the editorial pages contain opinions based on those facts. Surely, Raines doesn’t expect the editorial page to wag the dog.

The twin spikes wound the Times sports section grievously: Despite the paper’s resources and prestige, nobody in recent memory has regarded its sports section as top drawer. And this in America’s greatest sports city. Raines declared an intention to correct this failing at a March Times editors’ retreat, saying he hoped to find “a marquee national columnist, on the model of Red Smith or Jimmy Cannon,” to write about college sports, as Ken Auletta reported in the June 10 New Yorker. If Raines thinks he can recruit such sportswriter stars as Mike Lupica, Michael Wilbon, Bob Ryan, Skip Bayless, or Rick Reilly by arbitrarily killing columns, he obviously doesn’t know how the game is played.

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The best-case scenario is that M.E. Gerald Boyd killed the Augusta columns because he thought Raines would have wanted him to (but that Raines didn’t want him to), and that the spiking doesn’t signal some new Times policy. Either way, the paper’s crusade is backfiring as Times coverage of Augusta is starting to displace the backward Georgia country club’s membership policies as the item of controversy. (See Seth Mnookin’s Newsweekpiece about Raines and the Times for more.)

Simply put, the Times goofed, which newspapers do now and again. We should encourage Raines to take a mulligan on this one and run the columns as they were written. If not, Slate will be happy to run both.

(This Just In: Romenesko’s MediaNews posted this memo to the staff by Gerald Boyd about the spikings late Wednesday afternoon.)

If your name is Dave Anderson or Harvey Araton, send your killed columns to me at pressbox@hotmail.com and we’ll run them. If it isn’t but you’ve still got a mashy niblick to swing, tee off.

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