I was in Spain in September of 2000 when the Olympics were held in Sydney, Australia. If we had been in the U.S. we would have seen different Olympic Games than the rest of the world saw. But in Spain we watched Spanish TV, Sky 24-hour news out of England, and the BBC. That experience changed my view of the Olympics forever.
I had always been led to believe that the Olympics were about the USA and how perfectly powerful we were. But in 2000 I became painfully aware that the Olympic games we see on TV in the United States are not the real Olympics. Not at all.
In 2012 that principle applies even to the opening ceremonies. Over 40 million Americans watched the event. The viewers’ judgement of the ceremonies and opinions of the TV coverage didn’t matter; the event was paid for by advertisers, and what the American people saw was edited to fit around those advertisements.
The coverage of the Olympic Games is only a small example of a larger truth. Television guides U.S. citizens’ self-image and their view of the world.
In 2000, English TV (Sky 24/7 News or BBC) carried coverage 24 hours a day, from the opening ceremonies until the end of the Games. They showed athletes from countries around the world performing in everything from badminton to taekwondo. That is the way the games are seen by all those countries, from China to Spain, served by Sky. That global audience demands that Sky have a much broader view.
When NBC covered the opening ceremonies for the 2012 games, the network decided to skip over the portion of the pageant telling the story of the 2005 terrorist attack in London. That tragedy followed closely on the heels of the announcement that the 2012 games would take place in that city. That tendency will continue throughout the Games. The short segment about the man from Ireland who competed in the gymnastic floor exercises after doctors said he’d never walk again was one of the few that United States viewers will see out of all those other thousands of men and women who compete in the Olympics.
What is seen through the lens of the NBC cameras is all about the United States athletes. In the eyes of the world, there is a lot more to the Games than that. The world may be feasting on international spectacle, but the people of the United States are being fed a local meal a tiny bite at a time by network TV.