Memes of Red Baiting from Costas at the Olympics

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SochiIconBy Rowan Wolf, Editor In Chief of Cyrano’s Journal Today.

Bob Costas went on a tirade at the end of the Winter Olympics regarding Russia, Putin, and the Ukraine. The response to his remarks on twitter were almost universally supportive.  I was surprised and saddened by the total lack of any critical remarks. However, I have a feeling that they were being censored because I and a friend posted a couple of remarks that were critical; and they came down within 2 minutes of their being posted.

The NBC clip of that portion of the program can be found here, and below I have provided a full transcript. It should be noted that my transcript varies from the closed captioning with the clip. That is because the clip is not always accurate to what Costas was saying. I have included the “missing” parts in [brackets] in the transcript.

“As these Olympic Games have continued, so too has the escalation of the crisis in Ukraine. The former Soviet republic government, who is loyal to Vladamir Putin. [Government forces have undertaken an often brutal attempt to suppress the protests leading to] Dozens of deaths in recent days, even as the Olympics have gone on.

There are about 40 Ukrainian athletes in Sochi. [This week the Ukrainian team requested permission from the IOC to compete] They requested to compete with black arm bands. That request was denied [though the athletes did hold a moment of silence in the Olympic Village.]

Then today the [Ukrainian women’s 4×6 biathlon relay team] women biathlon team won the gold medal. [An emotional scene unfolded at the finish line, and] At the press conference afterwards, [Ukrainian athletes] they asked the audience to observe a moment of silence. The head of the Ukrainian delegation [IOC member and pole vault legend Serge Bubka] tearfully said: “We won’t celebrate because it’s not time for celebration.” [Though Bubka did note that the team had] But he did note they had officially made the decision to stay at the games because [quote] “We would like to raise the flag and hear the national anthem.” When that anthem is played [at tomorrow’s medal ceremony] tomorrow, it will represent both triumph and tragedy, especially with the spectre of Russia and Putin so much a part of the conflict as the tug of war continues among forces that would maintain Russian influence, and those who lean towards Europe and the West.

All of this reminds us of a pair of concurrent truths. The Sochi games have gone much better than many feared and predicted. So far security has held fast. Venues have been praised. Athletes and spectators have [almost unanimously] cited the warmth and hospitality of their hosts. [All of which is truly wonderful.] But that should not [serve to] obscure a more lasting truth. While [in many significant ways] Russian citizens have better lives than Soviet citizens of a generation ago, theirs is still a government which [imprisons dissidents,] is hostile to gay rights, sponsors and supports a vicious regime in Syria, and that’s just a partial list.

The Sochi games are Vladamir Putin’s games from their inception to their conclusion and all points in between. [And] If they are successful on their own terms, as appears to be the case, then at least in some corners it will help to burnish the image of a regime with which much of the world takes significant issue. [No amount of Olympic glory can mask those realities any more than a biathlon gold medal, though hard-earned and deeply satisfying as it is, can put out the fires in Kiev.]”

Let’s unwind Costas’ remarks just a bit.

  • He essentially states that the Ukrainian government is tied to Putin who is Russia, that is the Soviet Union, and therefore a brutal (communist) regime.
  • He portrays the Ukrainian conflict as between “those who would maintain Russian influence” (i.e. the government), and “those who lean towards Europe and the West” (presumably the people of Ukraine).
  • “The West” is a different entity than the EU, but that would be essentially the United States. “The West,” at least in the minds of those in the U.S.,  means the U.S. is the “West,” as the US is perceived by its citizens as the epitome of “the West,” and the leaders of it.
  • The Russian people live under a brutal dictatorship that is only a slight improvement over their lives during the Soviet period. He then provides a “list” of egregious acts and engagements (even though the US does many of the same things, and is intimately involved in the conflict in the Ukraine).
  • Totally excluded from the closed captioning is the closing sentence, “No amount of Olympic glory can mask those realities any more than a biathlon gold medal, though hard-earned and deeply satisfying as it is, can put out the fires in Kiev.” which lays the bloodshed and conflict in personally into Putin’s hands.

One might think this was some op-ed piece at the end of one of the many  infotainment programs. One certainly wouldn’t expect it from a sports caster at the Olympics talking about the country hosting those Olympics.

The cheer leading that showed up on twitter and elsewhere on the web, speaks to the pervasiveness of the beliefs in cold war propaganda. As it is used continuously to this day, we can hardly say that the propaganda is in the past, though it certainly has its roots there.

When things flare up in the present that are part of past CIA activities and interventions, it is called “blowback.” When we have past propaganda that has become an engrained part of present cultural usage and conceptualization, we have lies (or at least gross exaggerations) that have become what sociologists refer to as “social facts” or constructed artifacts or beliefs that are treated as “fact” or “truth.”

It seems unlikely that Costas was able to make such an extended commentary on matters without the knowledge and approval of NBC. This is especially true give the number of derogatory remarks that were aimed at Putin and Russia throughout the Games. Therefore, one must ask who NBC was trying to serve since it was at the very least rude, and did not add to their presentation of the Olympics.

It is difficult not not be struck by the irony of Costas spouting propaganda while sitting in a country where those in the U.S. are told propaganda is the norm. It is part and parcel of the “Russian” stereotype. It is also ironic that he was accusing Russia of the same types of egregious behavior that the U.S. engages in, but that too is part of what propaganda is about. Shading truth, hiding fact, and creating (or perpetuating) a story meant to persuade or distract from reality.

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