Martha Burk and her crusade against the men-only membership policy of Augusta National Golf Club have faded into relative obscurity.
Mrs. Burk, chairwoman of the D.C.-based National Council of Women’s Organizations, made guest appearances on every major network in the months preceding last year’s Masters, railing against both the prestigious club and its intractable chairman, Hootie Johnson.
She was a regular on the front pages of the nation’s most influential newspapers — particularly in the New York Times, which featured her in 102 stories through last April. And though her message ultimately did not resonate with the American public, precious few could claim they didn’t hear it.
A year later, as Augusta National prepares for next month’s 68th Masters, Mrs. Burk and her crusade have largely disappeared from newspapers and TV news shows.
“As of right now, I don’t plan on returning [to protest this year’s tournament],” Mrs. Burk said in a recent interview with The Washington Times. “Last year, we were put down there in a police-state atmosphere on a piece of club land that was well away from the main gates.”
Mrs. Burk’s protest drew far fewer participants than she had hoped. Only 40 persons joined her at last year’s anti-Augusta National rally, despite the extraordinary blanket of publicity the event had received.
Mrs. Burk says she does not consider the event a failure, but Augusta National media consultant Jim McCarthy summed up the protest, and perhaps the entire episode, in two sentences:
“It seems obvious to me that her credibility has been shattered,” Mr. McCarthy told a media contingent that easily outnumbered its subjects. “Her whole campaign was premised on widespread support, and she delivered an embarrassingly small number.”
In the face of such public indifference, virtually every media outlet immediately abandoned coverage of the issue.
Mrs. Burk has rated only 11 mentions in the New York Times in the 11 months since the dud rally — a sea change in coverage of an issue that last year was so heavy that the newspaper’s ombudsman, Daniel Okrent, recently described it in the New York Observer as “a humiliation for the newspaper.”
Mrs. Burk was mentioned in 4,424 stories in major U.S. newspapers and magazines between Sept.1, 2002, and March1, 2003. The massive coverage of Mrs. Burk and her cause has practically disappeared: She was mentioned in 162 stories between Sept.1 and March1.
Despite the setbacks, Mrs. Burk says she isn’t giving up her fight against Augusta National.
“I don’t care whether it’s a dead issue or not in the media,” Mrs. Burk said. “It’s not a dead issue with women, and it’s not a dead issue with corporate America. … We have made inroads.
“[The Masters] doesn’t have any sponsors again this year [for the tournament broadcast]. And they had to raise ticket prices by 40 percent. Their stance is costing them money. And the fact is, corporate America is reticent to jump back on their bandwagon.”