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Augusta hire crisis management advisor

Jim McCarthy is a natural spokesman who's not allowed to speak.

Retained by Augusta National Golf Club, the otherwise glib Washington public relations man can't say when he was hired, what kind of work he has done for the club or what he's supposed to do now that his client has become one of the hottest stories in the country. Such is Augusta National's code of silence.

"I can confirm that I'm advising the club on the tenor of media coverage. I'm an adviser," he allows.

"I specialize in high-stakes media situations. 'Crisis management' is the phrase we use."

Crisis is what he has.

Augusta National is under fire for its all-male membership. Its policies have been called "pig-headed" by one former member and have been pilloried by the National Council of Women's Organizations. Augusta National's chairman, William "Hootie" Johnson, has been mocked and scorned.

McCarthy was chosen, though he won't say how, to help stem a tide Augusta National supporters say was roiled by East Coast media and liberals.

"It was a referral," he says of his hiring, leaving it at that.

McCarthy, 35, grew up in Washington, the son of a prominent columnist for the Washington Post. His father, Colman McCarthy, also was a crack golfer, briefly a professional, who later joined a Trappist monastery. The son is an 8-handicapper who has played Congressional and Pebble Beach but never Augusta National.

He has a five-person, not widely known boutique public relations firm in Washington and teaches crisis manageament at American University.

Philip Baker-Shenk, a lawyer who has worked with him, calls McCarthy "a passionate advocate."

Augusta National's official spokesman, Glenn Greenspan, said McCarthy "works with us on media logistics." Greenaspan's specialty is sports and event public relations, not crisis management, and his focus is the Masters Tournament and matters of golf.

It is believed that McCarthy was involved in orchestrating Johnson's recent, highly controlled interview tour, conducted with selected major media outlets, an indication, perhaps, of his influence.

At least at first, McCarthy's resume seems a bit at odds with his latest job.

He has done work for American Indian tribes, campaigning on behalf of their effort to recover billions of natural resource trust-fund dollars mismanaged by the federal government.

He worked to decriminalize Indians' use of peyote in religious ceremonies.

And he's helping refugees of Sudan's civil war relocate to the United States.

Now, he's helping an elite, 300-member club that's adamant about not admitting a woman.

"It's not social activism so much," he explains. Rather, it's about fairness and constitutional freedoms.

"I want accounts that are about important issues. People being treated unfairly. People being bullied. My niche isn't simply crisis management," he says, "but helping craft issues that have real constitutional merit, may be perceived as unpopular and are deserving of a worthy defense."

Which, he suggests, is the point of Augusta's stand.

"The question is whether single-gender institutions are good or bad," he said. "A huge number of Americans regard single-gender clubs not merely as legal but as a good thing."

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