American media coverage of the 2016 Rio Olympics: The ugly truth

Ryan Lochte gets a pass for his major “robbery” misadventure, while Gabby Douglas gets pilloried for her hairstyle and attitude. What gives?

Gabby Douglas and Ryan Lochte. (Images via Wikipedia entries on both Olympic athletes)

OAKLAND, Calif., Aug. 20, 2016 – It’s important to note before reading this that I am currently pounding away like that popular animated GIF of Kermit the Frog hunched over a typewriter. (Catch that visual.) So let’s get into the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics without any cushy ledes or extended intros that might make this topic easier to digest.

I’ve always been critical of American media. I’m actually critical of most things, but what I am most critical of is how black and brown people are portrayed by white American media on a daily basis, and, currently, on the international Olympic stage for the world to see.

I find it interesting that in trying to pick Rio de Janeiro apart for its alleged unpreparedness in hosting the 2016 Olympics, the American media have in turn displayed their entire ass for all to see. The media coverage of this ongoing event has been racist, sexist and elitist throughout.

I always find it quite interesting the way American media chooses to report on nations of color in comparison to European nations. When the Olympics were held in London and Russia, for example, I remember hearing and reading little to nothing about crime, environmental degradation and civil and political unrest despite all of the above being quite prevalent in those countries at the time.

Now before you accuse me of pulling the race card out of my ass, I’d like for you to consider whose lens you are looking through.

I’m not saying that Rio de Janeiro and Brazil do not have their problems, due in great part to European colonization. (But I digress.) What I am saying is that I am extremely sensitive to how nations of black and brown people are depicted in the media by white reporters and white media conglomerates that have no clue about that country’s history and subsequent culture.

What’s even more terrifying, though, is that they could care less about discovering that clue.

“Beyond Olympic Glow, a Vicious Drug War Rages in Rio,” is an article the New York Times published last Friday, a piece that pandered to white Western fears of black and brown savagery.

Brazilian families and favela (Brazilian slum) residents, much like those featured in the article, are exploited and photographed inside their homes and neighborhoods by news organizations merely looking for clickbait.

The article makes no offer of solutions to the problems it presents and makes no mention of Rio de Janeiro’s class and social issues that have long existed not only prior to the 2016 Olympics, but well before the lives and cushy careers of the white editors and reporters that rely on the deplorable conditions of Brazil’s big city slums in an effort to gift wrap the negative hype as startling, breaking news for white audiences stateside.

Frankly, this is not news.

Note to media barons and on-air celebrities: There is nothing groundbreaking about your coverage. You are merely opening a window (and a small one at that) into the lives of people who have, more than likely, let you into their homes with the expectation that you will cover them fairly.

It’s likely as well they will never see your story and never read your articles in their print or digital formats. You have told their story through a lens that is not their own. As journalists, you have failed them.

The New York Times is not the only culprit in this regard. For another side of journalistic malpractice, let’s look and the evolving tale of American Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte.

The majority of American media outlets basically ran with the swiftness of FloJo with reports of how white America hero Ryan Lochte and three “other” American swimmers (because I guess their names were not as relevant) were robbed at gunpoint by brown assailants dressed up as Brazilian police officers.

There was no fact-checking in these stories, no vetting of Lochte’s side of the story before it was blasted forth as objective truth by news media titans like CNN, MSNBC and, of course, FOX News.

Why, you may ask? Because Lochte gave the white American media something to salivate over. He provided a face and big name for the narrative that has been spun about Rio considerably prior to the time that the media’s formal Olympic coverage actually began.

As it now turns out, instead of being robbed at gunpoint, Lochte and his crew had vandalized a Rio gas station and were caught. Yes people, it may sound crazy, but this time, the white Americans were the perpetrators of the crime and not the victims.

Lochte’s story, albeit a ridiculous one, fit the media’s already canned narrative of unrelenting crime and poverty in Rio, perpetuating the fear that most white Americans have of black and brown majority nations.

Consequently, it wasn’t until the people of Rio caught wind of the prevailing robbery storyline that the surveillance video was “found” challenging Lochte’s lie with, oh yes, right—actual evidence to the contrary.

Although Lochte’s story turned out to be a complete fabrication, there were no news outlets I could find that subsequently issued an apology to the people of Rio or its police department for such a rookie mistake.

Many of the initial stories have disappeared from the internet, slipping down the memory hole, never to be seen again. Others, like USA Today’s “Ryan Lochte robbed at gunpoint in Rio,” still remain (as of this writing) for your viewing pleasure.

Lochte and the other three American swimmers have yet to lose any endorsements and will likely suffer no major, long-term consequences for trying to cover their asses with the Brazilian flag although some media outlets like CNBC, Money Magazine and the Wall Street Journal speculate otherwise.

We live in a country where this indecent lie from grown men will be quickly written off as “boys will be boys.” By way of contrast, African-American athlete Gabby Douglas will be tried as an adult in the court of public opinion for her hairstyle and allegedly “unpatriotic” attitude, neither of which remotely resembles a crime. In this case, we didn’t ask to see all the facts first this time before forming our opinions, did we, America?

But again, I digress…

Other major digital, broadcast and print outlets across the board just can’t seem to get it right when it comes to covering the Rio games. This summer’s Olympic coverage has been dumbed down to a low level and mashed into infotainment for teenagers rather than serving as a credible source of Olympian sports journalism.

The Olympics is a global sporting event, not “keeping up with the Kardashians.” Athletes go into debt, sacrifice and train until their bodies break, just to qualify in the Olympics. That angle, however, is of little or no interest for the media, particularly when it comes to the challenges and accomplishments of women.

Female Olympians have been celebrated for still keeping a husband and a clean house while competing for the Olympics. Along similar lines, Simone Manuel, the first African-American woman to win an individual swimming event at the Olympics, has been reduced to the “African-American” who shared the spotlight with Michael Phelps, thanks to the beautiful people over at the San Jose Mercury News.

Le sigh. My fingers hurt.

In a pivotal time in American history, when we are seeing more diversity than ever before on the global stage, our media still remain an old white man’s playground. History is being made this year at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and our vaunted American media, flourishing in supposedly one of the most progressive parts of the world, is light years behind present reality.

The real message here: Rio isn’t the one that was unprepared. You are, America.

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