Saturday, February 22, 2014


              In the appalling wasteland of contemporary television, any oasis of sense and sanity is hard to find, especially for persons of a more conservative persuasion.  Many of that persuasion find their sole refuge from the relentless onslaught of left-wing media rot in the Fox News Channel (FNC).  For this observer, alas, even that isolated oasis has compromised its credibility with its recent distortions and outright ignorance in its coverage of the Sochi Winter Olympics.

                Although the Democrat-dominated cable news alternatives enjoy mocking FNC as a tool of the Republican Party and political conservatives, in reality it is far from it.  It's prominent news anchor, Shepard Smith, is a smirking liberal.  Unlike the mainstream media's liberal-dominated discussion panels, FNC never presents a topical debate or discussion without equal representation of the leftist or Democratic viewpoint, no matter how insupportable that position might be.  And Bill O'Reilly, FNC's most highly-rated and prominent star in the news and information field, is politically conservative only from the skewed perspective of the left.  He is an unrepentant liberal on many issues, such as capital punishment, and takes particular delight in scornfully mocking what he perceives to be the unwarranted stubbornness of conservatives in advancing and defending their positions.  In fact, a quick perusal of genuinely conservative political websites will confirm that O'Reilly and the FNC are held in considerable contempt in those quarters.

                Still, any port in a storm, as the saying goes.  Although I rarely resort to television for news or anything else, I frequently find relief from the boredom of lengthy workouts on the elliptical machine at my gym by tuning in FNC on the individual TV monitor.  But after the maddening ignorance and distortions to which I was exposed by two FNC programs on February 21, I think I will seek my rare television relief at the nature or history channels in future.

                In both cases, the subject was the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. 

                                                                                        Photo:  Issei Kato
         Adelina Sotnikova, deserving Ice Queen at the center of bogus controversy

                The first program was Neil Cavuto's afternoon news and information talk-fest, entitled "Your World."  Cavuto previously worked with CNBC, NBC, and PBS, and had an intership in the Jimmy Carter White House in his youth.  His expertise and experience lie in the fields of economics and business.  He is basically a mealy-mouthed, Pillsbury Dough-boy moderate who would likely consider a battle between Satan and Michael the Archangel as a story requiring a "fair and balanced" presentation.  But Cavuto's segment on Russia's conduct of the Sochi Olympics did not even pretend to a balanced presentation.

                Cavuto's guest was a former CIA operative whose qualifications for presenting informed comment on a winter sports festival were nil. Both Cavuto and his guest spent the entire segment parroting and reinforcing the prescribed U.S. media narrative (of both right and left) that the Sochi Olympics have been a disaster for Vladimir Putin and Russia.  They focused gleefully on photos of Putin frowning balefully while watching the Russian Ice Hockey team's upset defeat at the hands of Finland -- as though he should have been smiling and laughing at his nation's loss. 

                Revealing their abysmal ignorance of the broader Winter Olympics picture, they focused entirely on Russia's defeat in ice hockey, while studiously ignoring its momentous upset triumphs in ladies and team figure skating and its far exceeding expectations in the overall medal count (at this writing, on Feb. 22, Russia leads the overall medal count with 29, vs. the U.S.'s 27, and 11 golds, vs. the U.S.'s 9).  Not content with presenting an entirely distorted picture of the strong performance by Russia's athletes, Cavuto and his guest joined in seriously suggesting, without a shred of evidence, that Putin might punish, or maybe even execute, those Russian athletes who had fallen short.  They then went on to contend that the Sochi Olympics presented the greatest disaster for a host country since Hitler's travails at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, again without any basis in supporting facts.

                Significantly, moreover, the original and primary basis for predictions of disaster for Sochi was the threat of terrorist attacks or subversion.  Even the slightest indicators of approaching problems in this regard were seized upon with glee by the America media, with Cassandra-like projections of Olympic tragedy.  Yet the Sochi Games have been entirely free of even slight disruption in that respect; Putin's iron-handed security has proven more than a match for any terrorist pipedreams.  Consequently, the anti-Russian media chorus has been reduced to whining lugubriously about insufficiently plush accommodations, sometimes slushy snow, and almost comical suppression of the obnoxious and sacrilegious exhibitionists, Pussy Riot, by so-called Russian cossacks.

                But the Cavuto show's Russo-phobic distortions were only a preview of what was to follow on the sophomoric, dormitory lounge-style political panel show known as "The Five." 

                Purporting to be a conservative alternative to the left-wing circle jerks that pass for political exchange on outlets like MSNBC and CNN, the Five does not include a single principled social conservative or a single well-informed or thoughtful conservative commentator.  Instead, it is composed of Bob Beckel, a porcine, mentally indolent representative of old-school Democratic liberalism (he is also the political genius who managed Walter Mondale's pathetic 1984 presidential campaign that carried only a single State, Mondale's own Minnesota, and that by a squeaker); the smugly annoying, spike-haired, Berkeley-educated libertarian, Greg Gutfeld; former Bush 43 spokeswoman Dana Perino, the very embodiment of the inoffensive, unprincipled National Press Club-style moderate Republican; and Eric Bolling, a former commodities trader and financial reporter, who passes for the group's most assertive conservative.  The show's fifth slot is filled alternatively by one of two attractive and articulate brunettes, Andrea Tantaros and Kimberly Guilfoyle, or by the liberal African-American commentator, Juan Williams.

                The show's February 21 segment on the ladies figure skating competition at Sochi was one of the more offensive, mean-spirited, ill-informed presentations I have witnessed on television.

                I am a great admirer of the beauty and spirit of ladies figure skaters, and along with many millions world-wide, I greatly enjoyed the especially dramatic, beautifully skated performances of the contenders at the Sochi Ice Palace.  The gold medal came down to the final free skates of the three appealing young ladies who led the scoring after the short program:  highly-favored defending gold medalist Yuna Kim of South Korea, regarded by many as the greatest ladies skater ever; the graceful and elegant Italian skating veteran, Carolina Kostner; and the vivacious, brown-eyed 17-year-old Russian champion, Adelina Sotnikova.  Earlier, Kim's long-time arch-rival, two-time World Champion and 2010 silver medalist Mao Asada of Japan, had been effectively eliminated by falling in her attempt to land the rare and difficult triple axel (which no other lady skater currently attempts) in the short program.

                The final free-skate competition was a moving demonstration of athleticism, heart, and artistry for anyone with the slightest appreciation of the sport.  First, Mao Asada, heart-broken after her disastrous fall in the short program, pulled herself together for a gorgeous free skate, including perfect execution of her trademark triple axel.  Her gutsy performance, which pulled her from sixteenth to sixth place and was out-pointed only by the top two skaters in the free skate component, was especially admirable because she took the ice emotionally distraught and eliminated from contention for the gold medal she had sought since finishing second to Yuna Kim at Torino in 2010.  Commentator Johnny Weir justly observed that, medal or no medal, Asada's brave performance under the shadow of her short program confirmed that the lady had the heart of a true champion.

                When the final group took the ice, the Ice Palace was filled with extraordinary tension and suspense because the top three ladies were virtually tied after the short program.  Carolina Kostner was the first to skate.  Her dazzling, long-legged spirals, jumps, and spins to Revel's Bolero were both moving and athletically impressive, and she was rewarded with a justifiably high total score of 216.73 to take the lead.  It seemed at the moment that only the supreme Ms. Kim could surpass her.  But then Miss Sotnikova, the Russian ingenue, took center stage.  Her technical performance, with seven dazzling triple jumps, was off the charts, and was embellished by the energy, grace, and theatricality of her presentation.  Mainly on the strength of her incredibly demanding technical elements, she moved ahead of Ms. Kostner with a total score of 224.59.

              Finally, the arena hushed dramatically when Queen Yuna regally glided onto the ice.  She skated with the flawless grace and execution expected of the world's highest-ranked skater, but her jumps were on the tight side, and less demanding than those of Sotnikova.  She nailed six triple jumps, but Adelina had nailed seven, with higher technical values.  In the end, the judges determined that Miss Kim's graceful performance had not overcome Sotnikova's superior technical element scores and dazzling charisma, and awarded the gold medal to the Russian gamine.

                Especially because of Yuna Kim's great stature and status as a heavy favorite, the upset victory was naturally subject to scrutiny and the second-guessing that is typical of a sport based upon judging.  Unsurprisingly, South Korean officials complained that the judges had unfairly deprived their Queen Yuna of her expected victory.  More disturbingly, seventh-place U.S. skater Ashley Wagner expressed bitter criticism of the overall judging, even though her competent performance was nowhere near the excellence of the ladies who were awarded the podium.  Undoubtedly because the gold medal was awarded to a Russian girl, the Putin-hating U.S. media used these and other routine grumblings to cultivate a contrived controversy that Ms. Sotnikova's well-deserved victory was the result of prejudiced or dishonest judging.  Smugly ill-informed U.S. journalists, like USA Today's Christine Brennan, could not even wait to "review the video" before tweeting their unsolicited opinion that Ms. Sotnikova's score was unjustified.

                Fortunately for the cause of fairness and well-informed judgment, however, members of the elite skating community who actually understand figure skating came to the rescue.

               Former Olympic champion Tara Lipinski and her colorful NBC sidekick, former Olympian Johnny Weir, both concurred in the judges' decision that Ms. Sotnikova deserved first place.  In a subsequent television interview with Bob Costas which is well worth viewing (available on video at, Lipinski and Weir politely but firmly explained why Sotnikova's victory was warranted in terms even the likes of Christine Brennan might understand.  Her technical performance was demonstrably superior to Miss Kim's and Miss Kostner's, particularly her more difficult series of seven triple jumps.  As Johnny Weir put it with his typical verve, "Adelina won the night, plain and simple."

             Other elite Olympic skating veterans concurred.  Former gold medalist and long-time skating maven Scott Hamilton cited Sotnikova's superior athleticism in supporting the judges' decision.  "It was totally fair," concurred two-time Canadian silver medalist Elvis Stojko. Interestingly, if any two persons could represent the opposite poles of figure skating style, it would be the muscular and macho Stojko and the androgynous Johnny Weir.  Yet they flatly agreed on the justice and integrity of Adelina's victory.  And to its credit, NBC went to the trouble of preparing a synchronized, side-by-side video on its website showing each technical element and jump performed by Sotnikova and Kim, along with the points allowable for each element.  Anyone viewing that video can more readily understand why Sotnikova was given the narrow edge in the final scoring.

                Had the ill-prepared blockheads of The Five taken even five minutes to apprise themselves of these expert judgments they might have refrained from launching the disgraceful and ill-informed attack on the integrity of Ms. Sotnikova's spectacular triumph that was broadcast on February 21.  The obese and clueless Bob Beckel, who would not know a triple axel from a triple crown, not only declared that Ms. Kim had been cheated of the gold medal, but went so far as to imply that the result was fixed.  The other members of the panel generally lent their uninformed support to the insidious premise of the program – i.e., that Miss Sotnikova's victory was tainted and probably the result of corrupt Russian influence – by failing to challenge or question Beckel's and the program's introductory suggestion of a "fix."  In the program's nasty and mean-spirited denigration of this lovely Russian athlete's triumph, not one of the panel evinced the slightest indication that they had done any research or preparation for discussing a topic on which they lacked even rudimentary knowledge or insight.
                Indeed, this episode was the second time in a period of only a few weeks in which The Five's panelists had pontificated ignorantly and ignominiously on Olympic ice skating.  The U.S. Olympic authorities had ignited considerable controversy when they selected Ashley Wagner as one of the three lady skaters on the U.S. team, even though Mirai Nagasu had finished ahead of Wagner in the competitive tryouts and thus had earned the spot under the normal practice.  In their clueless discussion criticizing Wagner's selection, panel member Beckel implied that Wagner (a rather striking All-American beauty) was selected over Nagasu (a Japanese-American) because Wagner's looks were more representative of what was expected of a U.S. lady skater.  No other panel member questioned or challenged Beckel's boorish and groundless insinuation. This was an insult to both ladies, in demeaning both Wagner's selection and Nagasu's looks, even though Miss Nagasu is also a lovely girl.  Panelist Greg Gutfeld then removed any doubts about the group's ignorance when he smugly asserted that figure skating – long recognized as the most popular and widely-viewed Winter Olympic sport in television ratings – was one of those sports that only the participants and their families cared about.  Although his snide comment was beyond clueless, the other panel members acquiesced in silence.

                The most disturbing aspect of this kind of ill-informed television commentary – apart from the harm it inflicts upon those who are defamed by its fallacies – is the failure of these self-satisfied philistenes to undertake even minimal preparation and research on the topics they are privileged to expound upon before millions of viewers.  For commentators like those on The Five to impugn the integrity of Miss Sotnikova's Olympic triumph without even bothering to inform themselves of the most basic and pertinent facts is the height, or depth, of arrogant sloth.

                But there is another disturbing aspect of the critical portrayal of not only innocent Russian athletes but of Russia's Sochi Olympic effort in general that has more serious long-term implications beyond the passing phenomenon of a sports event.  It is apparent that this Olympic negativism is a proxy for an obsessive hostility towards Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation itself, which seems to prevail on both sides of America's ideological divide.  Particularly on the right, an irrepressible impulse to resurrect the glory days of President Reagan's victory over the Communist empire of the Soviet Union drives a certain element of conservatives to seek confrontation with Putin's non-communist Russian Federation wherever they can find it, whether in the games of Sochi or in the current Ukrainian upheaval.  Given the internal division, diminishing military power, and compromised leadership of our own country, the heedless pursuit of such a confrontation is not likely to end well.

1 comment:

  1. Well done George! If I taught a course in journalistic bias the coverage of the current Olympics would be a primary case study.