COMMENTS: I Left My Torch in the City by the Bay

Shenanigans in San Francisco were the Story of the Day as both ABC and CBS led with frayed tempers and nervous police provoked by the so-called Journey of Harmony, as the global relay of the Olympic Torch is called, to drum up enthusiasm and publicity for the Beijing Games. Publicity was no problem as the spectacle of municipal authorities switching routes and nixing schedules grabbed headlines. Enthusiasm was harder to find: Buddhist-led protestors bemoaned the People's Republic of China's violations of human rights in Tibet and support for repression in Myanmar; and street artists reenacted the crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989. NBC covered the torch too, but led with the disruption of American Airlines' domestic schedule because of protracted safety inspections. Not a single report was filed on Campaign 2008.

CBS' Bill Whitaker evoked the incendiary worries of civic leaders: dropping the torch in the middle of San Francisco, "one of the most politically active cities in the country, would be like dropping a match in kerosene." So instead they made the celebratory relay as hard to see as possible. Its whereabouts were concealed; its route was changed; the distance of the run was halved; and the closing ceremonies were held at an "undisclosed location." CBS' Whitaker called it a game of "hide the torch." ABC's Laura Marquez (embargoed link) marveled at a "remarkable piece of choreography." NBC's Peter Alexander saw torchbearers "escorted by a human shield of local police and Chinese paramilitary guards."

CBS anchor Katie Couric sought out David Wallechinsky, an historian of the Olympic Games. Referring to the secrecy and invisibility of the Olympic symbol, she inquired, reasonably: "Does this not defeat the whole point of the Olympic Torch relay?" "People fighting, pushing each other around, hiding it--that goes completely against the whole idea," he agreed. As for human rights abuses, they are no obstacle to the Games, Wallechinsky reminded us: just ten days before the 1968 opening ceremonies, "authorities shot to death about 250 people in the streets of Mexico City and they still went ahead with the Olympics anyway."


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