Veteran sports broadcaster Bob Costas had some harsh words talking about the upcoming Winter Olympics, which start Feb. 4 in Beijing. During an appearance on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, Costas laid into the International Olympic Committee for awarding the Games to China.
“We should preface this by saying that no one could have anticipated COVID, no matter what the venue is,” Costas said. “But the IOC deserves all of the disdain and disgust that comes their way for going back to China yet again. They were in Beijing in 2008. They go to Sochi in 2014. They’re shameless about this stuff. And so, this takes place not only amid COVID, as did the Tokyo Games of a year ago. But as you mention, the restrictions on press freedom and the sense that everyone there is being monitored in some way.”
NBC Sports already has announced that, because of COVID-19, it will not be sending announcers to Beijing. Broadcasters, instead, will call the events remotely from Stamford, Connecticut. Host Mike Tirico is expected to be in Beijing for the opening ceremony, but will return to the United States after a few days. The “Today” show and the “NBC Nightly News,” which would normally broadcast from the Olympics, are not expected to attend this year.
So how much will NBC address the human rights concerns involving China? Costas no longer works at NBC, but has hosted 12 Olympics for the network.
He told “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter, “I would anticipate … (NBC) will acknowledge the issues at the beginning and then address them only if something specific that cannot be ignored happens during the course of the Games.”
That’s not surprising. After all, NBC Universal paid $7.75 billion in 2014 for broadcast rights to the Olympic Games through 2032.
Costas said, “It isn’t just NBC. Any network that broadcasts big sports events is simultaneously in a position, it’s quasi-journalistic at best. You’re reporting a news event and what surrounds it in the case of the Olympics isn’t just what’s confined to one game in a stadium, you’re reporting an event, but you’re also promoting the event.”
As CNN’s Ramishah Maruf noted, Molly Solomon, an NBC executive producer and president of NBC Olympics production, said in a presentation last week, “We are going to be focusing on telling the stories of Team USA and covering the competition. But the world, as we all know, is a really complicated place right now. And we understand that there’s some difficult issues regarding the host nation.”
Meanwhile, The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi has this piece: “‘China will be China’: Why journalists are taking burner phones to the Beijing Olympics.”
Farhi wrote, “The reason: Reporters are concerned that any devices they use there could become infected with tracking software, enabling Chinese authorities to spy on their contents. Hence, the use of ‘burner’ phones and computers. The better-safe-than-sorry measure highlights the wariness among some of the thousands of journalists who are expecting chilly working conditions in the Chinese capital, and not just because of the subfreezing temperatures on the ski slopes.”
This piece originally appeared in The Poynter Report, our daily newsletter for everyone who cares about the media. Subscribe to The Poynter Report here.