Former NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, who has covered 12 Olympic Games as a host and commentator, did not hold back when discussing the challenges journalists will face during the Beijing Winter Olympics next month.
“The IOC deserves all of the disdain and disgust that comes their way for going back to China yet again,” Costas said on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” Sunday.
Costas referenced the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and the 2015 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia as examples of the International Olympic Committee’s seeming disregard for the prevalence of human rights abuses when selecting host nations. But now, there’s a “greater understanding of everything that China represents,” he said.
“They’re shameless about this stuff,” Costas said of the IOC.
Journalists will face a unique challenge during the Beijing games — balancing politics and sports, CNN’s chief media correspondent Brian Stelter said, adding that there are many unknowns in terms of censorship and how free international journalists will be when it comes to reporting on events in and around the games.
“Some journalists heading to Beijing are taking precautions like bringing burner phones and laptops,” Stelter said, referencing an earlier Washington Post story.
There is a lot of money on the line — NBCUniversal has a $12 billion contract to broadcast the Olympics through 2023. And both NBC and ESPN announced this week they will not be sending their usual contingent of reporters and producers to the Games due to Covid concerns.
NBC previously announced it would include geopolitical context during its Beijing coverage, but that its focus will be on the athletes.
“We are going to be focusing on telling the stories of Team USA and covering the competition,” Molly Solomon, executive producer and president of NBC Olympics Production, said during a presentation to reporters Wednesday. “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.”
Costas, acknowledging his respect for the challenges his former colleagues will face in Beijing, described Olympics reporting as a sort of “quasi journalism.” That’s because NBC pays a massive rights fee along with the production costs, putting the network in a somewhat promotional position for the Games. He added that covering the Olympics isn’t simply a news event, but also an important “cultural panorama” and “travel log” of the host nation, aspects that could be greatly reduced because of Covid and the potential for constant monitoring by Chinese authorities.
“It’s a centerpiece of the entire network strategy at a time where everything is fractionalized,” Costas said.
During the fanfare of the Games, Stelter asked how viewers should expect the geopolitical context to be covered.
“I would anticipate … [NBC] will acknowledge the issues at the beginning,” Costas said, “and then address them only if something specific that cannot be ignored happens during the course of the Games.”