By Danny Schechter
Los Angeles: Olympics live for Heroes and Sheroes—the “amateur” athlete winners that TV sportscasters swoon over, and companies later reward with lucrative endorsement contracts that, in turn, push them in the celebrity elite, often with enough staying power to move effortlessly from competition to commentary.
This year, in Sochi, America’s sweetheart is an 18 year old teenager with doting and photogenic parents who has won hearts as she slalomed to Olympic Gold.
It helps that Mikaela Shiffin is attractive and articulate, self-deprecating in an aw-shucks adolescent manner, and yet a model of iron discipline on the slopes.
It was clear from her fawning video profile that she was destined to be the ‘got it’ girl on her way to the glory of a gold.
Shiffin has a way with words as well as skills. She was upbeat and catchy in conversation with reporters, who, then, couldn’t say enough good things about her unaffected style.
“There I was, I’m like, ‘Grrreat. I’m just going to go win my first medal,” Mikaela enthused while the PR kept coming with non-stop florid descriptions and tributes to her ‘impressive balance and agilty,“ as she raced downhill.
NBC couldn’t get enough of her heroic alpine antics, even as the network which has never missed a Star Spangled medal ceremony to dwell on, seemed less interested in covering events “next door” in Ukraine or, closer to home, by fully exploring the buy out of Time Warner Cable by its own parent company, Comcast, that it also couldn’t be more adoring towards.
The FAIR Blog feature a snapshot of their “coverage” on the Morning Joe Show on MSNBC: “The February 13 broadcast of Morning Joe featured both sides–meaning the CEO of Comcast and the CEO of Time Warner Cable.
The news segment was more PR than journalism, with hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough offering up softballs. Scarborough actually prefaced one question by saying, “It’ll sound like a softball question”; his question to Comcast‘s Brian Roberts was, ‘”Comcast seems to be doing everything right over the past four or five years.” Brzezinski closed the segment by congratulating the CEOs.”
Scarborough later explained: “We get our paychecks from Comcast. Obviously we’re not sort of cool and detached from this news.”
To my surprise, after weeks of airing hot rumor after rumor about what was being pictured as an inevitable apocalypse on the Russian Riviera, especially terrorist threats in Sochi and every complaint by any journalist whose toilets didn’t flush in a luxury hotel, NBC had something nice to say in prime time on Friday night about the Russian hosts of the games.
Suddenly, it was about face time with the management of the games and the security praised for a job well done with plaudits for the hospitality of the Russkies and the good vibes all around. Suddenly, the description of a gulag softened into allusions to a borsht belt.
Perennial NBC Olympic host Bob Costas was downright complimentary, but this thaw in the new cold war between the US and Russia didn’t last more than a few minutes.
It was a set up for the thundering “on the other hand’ political monologue to come blasting Putin, no doubt in the spirit of “balance,” so hypocritically applied in network journalism.
It was so over the top that AP was startled into writing about it, calling it a “sharp if jarring” commentary that made the ultimate Olympic host the ultimate bad guy, bringing back memories of demonizing axis of evil comments from Reagan to Bush.
Reported the Associated Press: “Costas said the Sochi Olympics had gone off better than many people feared going in, “all of which is truly wonderful, but should not serve to obscure a harsher or more lasting truth. This is still a government which imprisons dissidents, is hostile to gay rights, sponsors and supports a vicious regime in Syria — and that’s just a partial list.” While the games’ may burnish Putin’s reputation in some eyes, “no amount of Olympic glory can mask these realities,” he said.
I was thinking about what if an Amy Goodman or any progressive journalist would ever be in a position to report or comment on a the American government in similar turns, as in the Olympics “should not serve to obscure a harsher or more lasting truth. This is still a government which imprisons (Substitute two million people, mostly minorities,) hostile to (Substitute immigrants and whistleblowers), sponsors and supports (Substitute dictators and a global overt and covert military presence— and that’s just a partial list.”
“While the games’ may burnish (Substitute: Washington’s) reputation in some eyes, “no amount of Olympic glory can mask these realities.’”
Could you ever imagine an indictment of US policy and intervention in such similar terms on a red, white and blue network that routinely insists sports and politics are worlds apart.
Costas has been outspoken before as when he denounced the tragic “failure” of the Bush Administration, but rather late, some four years after the invasion of Iraq on May 26, 2007. He later interviewed Bush deferentially at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Recall that Bush was knee deep then in supporting an aggression in Georgia that Putin‘s military stopped. He nearly decked a shit grinning Bush in the stands at the “Birds Nest Stadium” (so glorious then and apparently now abandoned and decrepit.)
Putin believed that the US was using the glow of the Olympics to distract attention from the war, then building in the country that the Beatles sang about in “Back in the USSR.”
Could the Ukraine be playing that role today?
So, as the skiers race downhill, also going downhill is US relations with Russia and Venezuela where an opposition leader backed by the National Endowment for Democracy is now in jail as street protests escalate.
A face-saving deal in the Ukraine is not being given a chance to work as the US backed opposition goes on the offensive consolidating control after the government stupidly opened fire on the protests. Increasingly, it looks like a coup.
Back in the USSA, as debate about raising the minimum wage festers, major institutions continue to raise the maximum wage. Writing on Baseline Scenario, James Kwak takes Google to task for giving its Chairman Eric Shmidt $106 million. (JP Morgan’s Jamie Diamond only got $20 mill.)
Writes Kwak, “…voting the chairman of the board enough money to buy a Gulfstream 650 and an entourage of 550s is not a good use of shareholder money. And it’s shockingly tone-deaf in this age of rising inequality and cuts to food stamps.”
This charade in the suites is accompanied by more misery downhill in the streets, as the Economic Policy Institute reports– facts yet to be cited by media cheerleaders at the Olympics.
Before we cut for another commercial, here’s a reality fans have nothing to cheer about, but are mostly not told.
“Though six years have passed since the Great Recession officially began in December 2007 and four-and-a-half years since its official end in June 2009, U.S. workers continue to feel the impact of the recession and the very weak recovery through elevated unemployment and through suppressed wages . . . low-wage earners— wage-earners at the 20th percentile— have experienced wage erosion in nearly every state.”
Back to Sochi: oops, have another Coke: time for more flag waving!
News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org and blogs at news dissector.net. His latest book is Madiba AtoZ: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela.(Madibabook.com) Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org