COMMENTS: Let the Games Begin

Yes, war started in the Caucasus. Yes, a prominent politician copped to lying about sex. But the Olympic Games opened in Beijing and that was the Story of the Day. NBC, obviously, covered the Games most heavily with anchor Brian Williams based in Beijing. He was in the awkward position of referring to the extravaganza of the opening ceremonies as his lead news event even as he persisted in promoting it as an upcoming primetime spectacle to be aired by NBC Sports. CBS, with substitute anchor Russ Mitchell, led with that priapic politician, onetime Presidential candidate John Edwards. ABC, with substitute Kate Snow, made a peculiar choice for its lead--a continuation of the monthlong decline in the cost of a barrel of crude oil.

Both NBC's Richard Engel and ABC's David Muir (embargoed link) talked us through the opening ceremonies--"talked" because video images had been embargoed by NBC Sports so highlights had to be rendered in still photojournalism. "Breathtaking' and "lavish" were adjectives selected by Engel. "Stunning," was Muir's choice. He found the 90,000 crowd in the Birds News stadium "mesmerized." Anchor Brian Williams selected Lopez Lomong for NBC's closing Making a Difference feature. Lomong, a track-&-field athlete, was the flagbearer for the USOC team at the ceremonies. At the age of six he had been separated from his parents during the civil war in his native Sudan, becoming one of that war's Lost Boys before being granted asylum and then citizenship in the United States. "He may be part of a walking political statement," Williams suggested, "because of China's ties to Sudan and the ongoing Darfur tragedy." Sharyn Alfonsi (no link) profiled Lomong on Wednesday, but as usually happens, ABC decided not to exercise its fair use privilege to post copyright-protected sports footage online, so Williams' Lomong videostream is the only network story available.

"We have been able to see the air here," declared anchor Williams. He consulted his network's in-house physician Nancy Snyderman about whether breathing stuff that thick can be healthy. Snyderman noted that factories are closed and that the dusty Gobi Desert is close and that the humidity was heavy: "Honestly right now I think most of this is humidity…Right now according to the International Olympic Committee it is safe for the athletes."

The serious side of the Olympics was covered by ABC's Stephanie Sy and CBS' Barry Petersen. "Dissidents fear security forces will use Olympic protection as an excuse for more roundups," Petersen warned, referring to arrests of Christian activists. The Chinese did not promise an open Olympics--just a secure one." Sy followed up on the monthlong shut down of construction in the city as part of the clean air effort. It left "a million migrant workers unemployed." Some Beijing residents have been evicted for Olympic urban renewal projects. Yet Sy found both laid-off migrants and homeless citizens brimming with patriotic pride at China's achievement.

The construction of the Birds Nest stadium was the news hook used by NBC's Mark Mullen to file a feature on the life of a migrant construction worker. He followed Jung Tao An, a 34-year-old who has traveled from site to site installing insulation for the past 14 years. He sleeps at the job site and "can only afford to go home once a year" to see his two children. This winter his journey coincided with the horrendous snowstorms that welcomed the Year of the Rat. With Beijing construction shut down, Jung is now insulating 200 miles away in Hebei.


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