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Posted by on Aug 12, 2016 in Media, Society | 16 comments

Culturally tone-deaf Olympics newsrooms equal #mediaFail

I was certain that the San Jose Mercury News tweet was a spoof.

I read it three times. Stunned.

Then I went to their Twitter page, where I read the apology. I breathed a sigh of thanks that Ed Zitron had the presence of mind to screen cap the tweet, which had (of course) disappeared.

The BBC understood how to write a tweet that matched the photo:

But there was an even bigger slap: NBC did not broadcast the medal ceremony.


Given the symbolic nature of this win — and the state of racial relations in the U.S. at the moment — the oversight is unconscionable.

In the past, lack of access to swimming pools and public beaches meant that many black Americans were denied the opportunity to learn how to swim. Intergenerational fear of the water stops their descendants from learning even now.

Here’s the deal: this isn’t a one-off example of tone-deaf media. Nor is it restricted to the west.

This Thursday fiasco follows Saturday’s tone-deaf commentary from NBC:


There was Sunday’s sexist tweet from the Chicago Tribune:

And her husband had nothing to do with her accomplishment, the bronze medal in women’s trap shooting. That was her second Olympic medal, but the article focused more on the Bears than her Olympic success.

The paper walked back the tweet:

Then there’s this from the Daily Mail (just look at the original headline, captured for all eternity in the URL):

To bring attention to the sexist pandering, we have Caissie St.Onge:


On Monday, NBC forced announcer Al Trautwig to delete his tweet saying that American gymnastics star Simone Biles’ adoptive mother and father were not her parents.

The tweet was in response to his on-air comments after NBC aired a profile about Biles. Trautwig said that she “was raised by her grandfather and his wife and she calls them mom and dad.”

Biles is adopted.


On Tuesday, the BBC stepped in it, too. Thrice.

First up:

The second instance was on BBC radio. An on-air personality tried to make a joke about Somalian pirates when reporting on their sailing win.

And the third instance Tuesday was a TV personality:

BBC apologized to viewers after tennis commentator Paul Hand urged “kiss cam” operators to refrain from showing a gay couple. “Let’s hope they don’t go on to two blokes sat next to each other,” Hand said.


On Wednesday, the government “distributed pamphlets titled ‘Olympics without racism‘ in stadiums. It sounds like far too little, far too late.

Here’s Canadian CBC commentator Byron MacDonald, referencing 14-year-old Chinese swimmer Ai Yanhan, later Wednesday night. Unknown to MacDonald, his mike was live.



How to explain the lack of cultural awareness?

What we are seeing (or hearing) at the 2016 Olympics reflects the way newsrooms report on women athletes. In other words, this is S.O.P.

Analyzing over 160 million words from decades of newspapers, academic papers, tweets and blogs, the study [from UK’s Cambridge University Press] finds men are three times more likely than women to be mentioned in a sporting context, while women are disproportionately described in relation to their marital status, age or appearance.

We’re also seeing a legacy of global racism.

The Olympics audience is larger and more vocal than that for most individual sporting events. That attention brings opportunity.

The only way to effect change is to make the need for it visible.

For that visibility assist, Twitter, we thank you.

As far as the fourth estate is concerned, it’s way past time for you to get with the program. (I’d lay odds those sexist tweets, like the other comments, originated from men.)


Featured image: Flickr CC
Cross-posted from WiredPen
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  • well…. i was watching John Oliver the other night and he showed a number of tv clips of female newcasters falling all over a shiny half naked flag bearer…. soooo…

  • JSpencer

    Boy, change sure is slow, and people can sure be dense. Decade after decade… but as you say:

    “The only way to effect change is to make the need for it visible.”

    Agreed. Some people seem to want to pretend it isn’t necessary, and they are the reason it needs to be visible… as often and for as long as it takes.

  • KP

    On a happy note, I did enjoy it when Michelle Carter won the Gold in the shot put and then hung out with her daddy who had won a Silver many years ago and a Super Bowl ring after that.

    She gave him the bizzness for his Silver 🙂


  • KP

    I support your post.

    I wrote this one back in June:

  • Brownies girl

    Canada has only 12 medals so far — ALL won by our women’s team. We put way more $$
    into supporting our guys — but it’s women coming through for us. Incredible! Am off to watch the 100 metre in 5 minutes — rooting for Andre deGrasse — hope he gets it!

    • Brownies girl

      Andre made the finals!!!! — tenth of a second behind Bolt —- OH JOY!

      • KP

        That is good news. I would be pleased if Andre De Grasse podiums, Gold or otherwise. I like him. As well, Trayvon Bromell.

        • Brownies girl

          From your fingers to G*d’s ear! I cheered so loud in that second run-off, I scared the dogs — took a while to calm them down. I’m hoping De Grasse, Bolt and whoever, in that order — we shall see! I have a cold glass of Chardonnay waiting, no matter the outcome!

          • KP

            We won’t see it on TV until near 2:00am your time.

            Keep your cards close to your vest 🙂

          • Bob Munck

            a cold glass of Chardonnay

            No colder than 9°, mind you. My wife insists on a degree or even two above that. We keep the white wine fridge at 10° and the red wine fridge at 15°. The big cellar is 12°.

          • Fortunately, my $6.95 wine does not requires such special care. 🙂

          • dduck

            My box wine doesn’t even require a wine glass at a precise temperature to receive the wine. The spigot is placed over an oral orifice which has a temperature of precisely 98.6F

          • Way to go dduck. That’s what I would call from the source directly to the destination, never traveling through unnecessary intermediaries. 🙂

          • Edit “requires” to “require”

            My (acquired) English is bad, but not that bad. 🙂

          • Bob Munck

            does not [require] such special care.

            It couldn’t hurt.

          • Brownies girl

            BM writes: “No colder than 9°, mind you. My wife insists on a degree or even two above that. We keep the white wine fridge at 10° and the red wine fridge at 15°. The big cellar is 12°.”

            It’s so hot up this way now that the temp of the vino rises between pouring it at the fridge and walking the 15 ft to the sofa. So I just plop in an ice cube. I’m with Dorian — there’s little damage you can do to a $7 bottle of white wine. But kudos to you and the wife for your temperature care — I’ve heard it makes a huge difference in taste, specially with red wines.

            Anyway, our Andre deGrasse medalled in the 100 metres — and we’re pleased as hell! The celebratory wine went down smooth and fabulous! Cheers, BG

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