Expected or Unacceptable?: Rant on the NBC commentary during the Olympic broadcast

Warning: mildly naive rant ahead!

I've been poking around the NBC Olympics site today, and been surprised at how good it is. In general, I haven't been captivated by the Olympics since I was young and don't expect to spend that much time on it this year, but still you can't help being caught up in all the hype.

Anyway, I got home and switched on the TV just in time to catch part of the opening ceremony that NBC was broadcasting, and was instantly surprised at the thoughtless commentary, from I'm assuming Bob Costas (though I can't be sure)

Just as I turned the TV on it turned out the atheletes from Saudi Arabia were walking across the track, and in surprisingly thoughtless agenda-pushing, the commentator goes (paraphrasing from memory):

"Ah, the atheletes from Saudi Arabia; all men of course ...women aren't allowed to compete in sports in this country, or drive or do much without the permissions of their husbands....."

OK, why is this relevant here? 
If you have nothing to say about the atheletes from the country, shut up or better still get your staff to do some research on non-American atheletes. But hold on, it gets worse..

"Next up the UAE, where just 2 women are part of the contingent and they part of the royal family and one of them is the Prime Minister's daughter. I wonder if that had anything to do with it."

I got curious about this and so had to dig into it a bit. It turns out there's a little bit more going on there than the nepotism that the comments seem to suggest. It got worse. I think I then stayed tuned just to see how annoyed the commentator could make me. He didn't disappoint: something patronizing about Afghanistan, something derogatory Venezuela's Hugo Chavez (though he has material there), and of course, France:  

"Oh, the Chinese are cheering for the French? It not in the Chinese nature to confront I guess."  (referencing protests in France about the Olympics in China)

Its called being good hosts, or displaying Olympic spirit, or just good manners, you twit! Not everyone renames food because you disagree with someone's actions.

There's a time and place for every argument and this wasn't the time, the place or for that matter even relevant. The commentary was bordering on the ignorant. Being liberal...really liberal, is not about believing in 5 things that amount to a certain lifestyle; its about being open to different viewpoints and taking the time to listen to them before judging them. Its also not about being sanctimonious at every single point.

Perhaps Costas (still not entirely sure it was him) isn't at fault here, just reflecting the thoughts of his audience, which is economically the most sensible thing to do. Re-inforce people's views and keep people watching your show comfortable. There's been studies to show that's how media works.

I still like to believe that journalists have a responsbility beyond just reflecting their own or for that matter their country's opinions. In an ideal world they're supposed to be smarter than us, take the extra steps to think things through, show us multiple sides of the story and distill information for us. I guess that's hoping for too much these days.


Josekin said…
Tis not mildly naive. Tis a good observation on how sensational US media has become. I do wonder about the cause and effects though. Viewers want this type of "color commentary"? Or stations fueling it?

Anyway, ironically, the HK media has behaved and only commented on number of people in the Olympic team and what sports they are in.

We played this game when the countries marched in: my buddies and I were going to travel to the country with 8 Olympians. The answer: New Guinea and Sri Lanka.
shmoo said…
Maybe it could've been presented differently, but it's definitely relevant, when looking at the Saudi team, to note that it's all men. Or at another team and say it's the first time women have competed. Just as they said it was the first time some countries sent teams (or individuals) at all.

That said, yes, it could've been presented better. I think Matt Lauer was there with Costas, so I'm not sure which of them said what, though I expect some things were said by each.

I don't recall that comment about the "Chinese nature to confront" though I do remember them talking about the French protests.
Satyajeet said…
Sure. The observation is fine, but stop there. Refrain from the additional commentary.

Can you imagine
- talking about Iraq as the US team walk out
- or making fun of George Bush as the US team waves (pretty much what happened when Venezuela walked out.)

I'm hoping it wasn't Lauer. :) I like Costas, but I'm used to the idea of him saying stupid things while trying to be smart.
Jessica J said…
I totally disagree with you, but I can't resist pointing out the irony of suggesting that those hired to provide commentary "refrain from the additional commentary."
Satyajeet said…
Aw c'mon, you know what I meant.:)
shmoo said…
Well, they did show Bush while Iraq walked out.

I miss Costas doing the World Series. Stupid Fox.

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