NBC Olympics Coverage: Burying Cold War History

Whitewashing the Evil Empire and the U.S.'s triumphs against it.

miracleoniceNBC sportscaster Bob “pink-eye” Costas has taken some heat for portraying Russian strongman Vladimir Putin as an amiable and evenhanded diplomat. But that was far from the only snow job in NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics at Sochi.

On Saturday, the United States hockey team defeated Russia 3-2 in game that, by all accounts, equaled the 1980s “Miracle on Ice” in excitement. NBC broadcast the game very early, so the contest doubtless drew a smaller viewership than it deserved. Those who tuned in later for highlights were disappointed.

In their prime-time wrap-up of the day’s events, NBC failed to show any highlights from the 3-2 USA victory. Neither did they show highlights of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” at Lake Placid. There a team of American collegians defeated a Soviet team of seasoned professionals, easily on par with the best NHL players and considered a lock for the gold medal. It was as though the junior varsity of Yale or Rutgers had vanquished the mighty Montreal Canadiens in their prime. But none of that for the viewers, even though NBC had on hand Al Michaels, who called the 1980 game and in the closing seconds famously said “do you believe in miracles?”

NBC did not have Michaels narrate any highlights from 1980. Instead NBC had him talk about the game. In television talking just doesn’t get it, and Michaels seemed embarrassed not only at the dearth of highlights but the rest of the fare.

Enter Tom Brokaw, not with some memorable moment from the current or past Olympics, of which there are many. The United States also won a gold medal in hockey at the 1960 Olympics at Squaw Valley, California, beating out the USSR and Canada with a no-name team of amateurs. More than a few from that team are still around, including goalie Jack McCartan. The USA’s 1956 silver medal in hockey was another milestone performance. But Tom Brokaw did not showcase any athletes from any country, and nothing about sports at all.

Instead Tom Brokaw, in his unctuous and marble-mouthed style, inflicted on viewers a documentary on the “Space Race” between the United States and Soviet Union. The interview subjects included U.S. astronauts John Glenn, Jim Lovell and Tom Stafford, and Soviet cosmonaut Alexi Leonov. Natalya Koroleva, whose father, Sergei Korolev, directed the Soviet space program, also made an appearance.

Jim Bell, executive producer of NBC Olympics, said the space race piece would “give our audience a fresh perspective on how the Russian people experienced the race and, to a degree, the Cold War.” And as Brokaw put it, “We went from pointing missiles at each other to exploring the heavens together. The men who pulled it off, cosmonauts and astronauts, all had the right stuff. They became life-long friends. It’s how the world should work all the time.”

Brokaw’s piece conveyed the idea that the USA and USSR were simply two large nations trying to outdo each other in space. The implication was that the two nations were more similar than different, which isn’t true.

With all its faults, the USA is a democracy that respects human rights, free speech, free emigration, freedom of worship and other bourgeois trifles. The USSR was a goose-stepping Marxist-Leninist tyranny that repressed all freedoms, murdered millions, imprisoned dissidents, persecuted religious believers, and imposed totalitarian regimes on half of Europe for 50 years. Viewers got no concept of that, nor of the USSR’s quest to colonize the world. That was what the Cold War was about. The USA and the West won that war. The “evil empire,” as Ronald Reagan accurately called it, lost that war. That’s how it actually worked out.

NBC’s “fresh perspective” was the latest example of what might be called sickle-cell amnesia, the practice of forgetting any unpleasant realities about the Soviet Union. That is, if NBC bosses knew them in the first place.

Meanwhile, Bob Costas’ puff piece on Putin was a bit too much for David Remnick of the New Yorker. “On the world stage, though, remember he [Putin] is an autocrat,” Remnick said. “He is no democrat. He has no interest in LGBT issues or human rights — all the things that are being discussed.”

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