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Published: August 11, 2008 at 07:26 PM GMT
Last Updated: August 11, 2008 at 07:26 PM GMT
On the best of days, "One World, One Dream" -- the theme of the XXIX Summer Games -- was an ambitious slogan devised for China's coming out party onto the world stage. But not even Olympic Peace, that Greek tradition for armistice that dates back to the games of 8th century BC -- and was formally sanctioned by the U.N. Assembly in 1993 -- remained intact as Russia bombed Georgia over the weekend. What began as a week where the frivolous heiress of The Simple Life remade herself while successfully mocking John McCain's ad attack on Barack Obama's popularity, quickly shifted gears from the ridiculous to the sublime with the military commission thumbing its nose at BushWorld, handing down a 66-month sentence to Osama Bin Laden's driver, Salim Hamdan, minus 5 years and 1 month for time served, rather than the 30-year sentence the administration demanded. The rest of the week was no less unkind to Mr. Bush: Tuesday saw the publication of Pulitzer prize-winning reporter Ron Suskind's The Way of The World, asserting that a key intelligence document linking Saddam Hussein with Al Qaeda was forged by the CIA, under orders from on high. And, despite the FBI's pronouncement that its case against Bruce E. Ivins was closed, ABC's role in reporting on the anthrax case came under growing scrutiny by week's end. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Olympics -- and NBC's coverage of the event -- is an inestimable accomplishment. Its size and scope will re-calibrate and anticipate how media is consumed and distributed. Let the games begin.
In the run up to the Summer Games China announced with nationalist pride that it had overtaken the U.S. as the largest global population on the Internet. It does get points off, of course, for offering a censored Internet. The larger point is that technological prowess has become a benchmark, right up there with economic and military strength. While early reviews of the Opening Ceremonies praised the artistry of Zhang Yimou, NBC's domestic coverage was not given a pass. Avid sports fan Rafat Ali of Paid Content was among the first to express his discontent that rather have Live with Bob Costas and Matt Lauer, it was Live with Regis & Kathie Lee. Given the option of broadcasting the event live and repeating it in prime time, NBC chose to offer tape delay to its millions of viewers. While it didn't appear to suffer ratings-wise -- its audience of 34.2M was a record for any non-U.S. Olympic opening ceremony -- it mightily pissed off fanatics who complained that they were unable to share the event as it unfolded with their friends worldwide. (Unless they were able to watch CBC live on cable.) On the plus side, Web traffic skyrocketed; whereas Athens saw 7M pageviews back in 2004, NBCOlympics.com realized 70M pageviews that Friday -- a 1000% increase. But this boon of added Internet attention has given rise to some of the most virulent criticism for NBC. Silicon Alley Insider -- among other publications -- sought to good-naturedly provide its readers with a round-up of links to find streams for those sports NBCOlympics.com was not offering -- gymnastics, volleyball, and swimming among them. It helpfully sized up Dutch, China, Saudi urls, finding Russia's offerings (!) at the top. The following day it published a takedown notice by the IOC, which has instantly become the sports version of the RIAA. NBC is only offering content that has first been on broadcast television; only then will it make the event available online. Said one poster on SAI: "NBC is making pirates of honest people."
Now, there are cool things afoot: BusinessWeek reports on how viewers can watch their sports on YouTube live or on demand, in 77 countries, just not the USA or China. Mobile, however, seems to be on NBC's radar, it's using a company called SinglePoint to offer personalized content, including mobile alerts and across all carriers. Satellite TV - the DISH network in particular, is working with Ensequence to offer an interactive experience, including a multiple-screen showcase (a la John Cassavetes) of events across six channels. CNET discusses how Google's DoubleClick In-Stream technology is delivering ads in online video and supporting Microsoft's Silverlight (a rival to Adobe Flash). Now, while it seems that GE has placed NBCU off the auction block for the time being, the network must recognize that it need not coerce its viewers to watch the Olympics on television. This remains a preferred outlet for viewing pleasure. But when we are out and about, commuting, at the gym, goofing off at work, NBC is losing viewers and viewer loyalty by underestimating them.
Conventional wisdom held that the Games would eclipse the presidential race -- certainly this prefigured into Barack Obama's decision to head home to Hawaii for the week. But the political brouhaha's of the week were hardly trifling. Setting aside John Edwards' peccadilloes, Ron Suskind's charges -- if substantiated -- rise to the level of an impeachable offense. His smoking gun? The CIA's former Deputy Chief of Clandestine Operations Robert Richer went on record that the White House ordered a forged letter linking Saddam Hussein to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. [Specifically the letter asserts that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta received training in Baghdad, while also discussing the arrival of that infamous yellowcake shipment from Niger.] As personal attacks rose during the week, Suskind saw fit to publish a partial transcript of his chat with Richer. While the left blogosphere is piling on, his isn't a partisan attack. On Friday The American Conservative upheld his argument, apart from offering that it felt that it was then-Defense Undersecretary Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans that cooked up the document. And Suskind's left-wing publisher? Rupert Murdoch. On its own the Suskind revelation is heady stuff, but... there's more.
For years Salon's Glenn Greenwald has been a lone voice in the wilderness expressing cynicism on the anthrax case and any links that were found between it and Saddam Hussein. With the suicide of Bruce E. Ivins and the government's case against him made public, this voice was not quieted. Rather, it became an uproar. ABCNews led the charge that the anthrax sent to (among others) House Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Sen. Leahy of Vermont included a trace of bentonite -- a signature component used by the Iraqi dictator. The broadcaster claimed it had four independent sources and outlets such as The Weekly Standard availed themselves to its reporting as another piece of iron-clad evidence on our march to war. Given that Ivins worked at Ft. Detrick, the same lab where the anthrax testing occurred, and that bentonite was shortly thereafter debunked as part of the anthrax sample, Greenwald decided to take ABC's reporting to task. Media mavens like NYU Journalism professor Jay Rosen (founder of Huffington Post's Off The Bus citizen journalism experiment) pushed the story by creating a blog meme - asking readers to forward three questions for ABC to answer. Brian Ross did so for TVNewser, but rather unconvincingly. The Columbia Journalism Review was likewise unsatisfied and pressed the Net to answer three more questions. Unresolved: Was ABC deliberately duped by its sources and fed information by the White House? Editorials in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and The New Republic want them to reveal their sources - since confidentiality's off the table when a source lies or misleads.
Nicholas Kristof has a timely editorial in yesterday's Times cautioning how military support is funded at the expense of diplomatic efforts. And he cites a new RAND study that finds only seven percent of terrorist groups have yielded to military force. For the majority they are either absorbed into the political process or they are dismantled by police work. While Russia has rebuffed Georgia's overtures for ceasefire (as of 5:47am EST) it is poignant to see athletes from each of the countries sharing the podium with mutual admiration on full view. Olympic historian (and former NBC commentator) David Wallechinsky has some sage advice on protesting the Olympics. The Cliff Notes: Don't protest the Chinese people or "China," but the Chinese Communist Party (CCP); only five percent of the populace are members. In the meantime, he suggests that we hold the Olympic sponsors to account: "Why not ask Coca-Cola, GE, Johnson & Johnson, Kodak, McDonalds, Panasonic, Samsung or VISA what they think of human rights violations in China?"
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