For most of July, British and stateside media just wouldn’t shut up about how badly the Brits were mismanaging preparations for the London Olympics. A nightly newscast on the major networks wasn’t complete (I know — I watched a lot of them in my Libor coverage) without a segment on how the security contractor wasn’t doing its job, the government had to send in troops and so on. There was even some celebrated, and overblown, video of some security goon sleeping on the job (see video above). That clip got so much attention because of the consensus that things were in disarray.
Here’s a sampling of headlines regarding the botched preparations:
*”London Olympics security gaps mount as athletes arrive”: This story referred to the failures as an out-and-out “scandal.”
*”Olympic security chaos: depth of G4S security crisis revealed”: This story contains this line: “Guards told how, with 14 days to go until the Olympics opening ceremony, they had received no schedules, uniforms or training on x-ray machines.”
*”British Parliament Criticizes Olympic Security Preparations”: This story opens: “A British parliamentary committee report released Thursday says confidence in the London Olympics has been weakened by a private contractor’s failure to provide enough security guards.”
Not long after all this publicity the chaos in London, Mitt Romney is answering a question from Brian Williams about London Olympic preparations. He responds like this:
There are a few things that were disconcerting — the stories about the private security firm not having enough people. The supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging. Because in the games, there are three parts that make games successful. No. 1, of course, are the athletes, that’s what overwhelmingly the games are about. No. 2 are the volunteers and they’ll have great volunteers here. But No. 3 are the people of the country. Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment? And that’s something which we only find out once the games begin.
Agreed: That last comment wasn’t the presidential aspirant’s most politic moment. Even so, his reservations about preparedness drove much of the outrage and bad publicity that Romney has received over the past two days — despite the fact that his assessment of the security problems was 1) spot-on accurate; and 2) pretty mildly stated, compared to the coverage of recent weeks.
Those considerations notwithstanding, media organizations covering this “gaffe” and “blunder” in many cases failed to include a big, red, blinking box of text shouting that Romney was referring to some real problems that had been widely reported and lamented. Some examples:
*The New York Times, Herald Tribune discusses all the stir caused by Romney’s remarks. Yet where’s the beefy explanation that the presumptive Republican nominee’s misgivings were well rooted in fact? Not there.
*CBS News covers all the necessary “blunder” turf:
Romney’s trip was designed to spotlight his foreign policy skills, but instead, on his very first stop, he ended up trying dig himself out of a diplomatic blunder after offending the Brits over their handling of the Olympics. That blunder happened yesterday in an interview with NBC News when Romney talked about problems leading up to the the big games.
And again, scant mention that, you know, Romney was actually referring to some genuine problems.
*The Huffington Post pounds Romney every which way without mentioning that he, again, was right.
*Same for this piece in the Guardian, which itself chronicled the country’s preparatory troubles.
The Post captured the dynamic:
Olympics organizers have had to cope with a series of security blunders, including a disclosure that the private contractor hired to provide guards for the Games was 3,500 staff members short. The military scrambled to fill in the gap.
Still, the hosts did not seem to appreciate a foreign visitor reminding them about the problems.