Sen. John McCain was among those who hammered NBC’s Bob Costas for the content of a Vladimir Putin primer that aired as part of the network’s early coverage of the Sochi Olympic Games. Aired prior to a discussion of Putin with New Yorker eminence David Remnick, the 90-second piece stated how Putin had attempted to establish himself as a big-time world player. People were mad about it. One headline read, “Bob Costas Profile of Putin Portrays Him as Statesman Superior to Obama.”
McCain was happy to join the beat down. On a Fox News program, McCain railed, “Bob Costas ought to stick to sports because he obviously didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.”
Last night, Costas himself appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News program to inveigh against the backlash over his Putin coverage, though he came hesitantly: “I was reluctant to come on. I come on out of respect to you,” Costas told O’Reilly, with whom he is friendly. “You’ve always been fair to me. But I run the risk of amplifying which should be non-issue. This is a controversy only for those looking for the most flimsy pretext for a controversy and a kind of cut and paste thing that isn’t even journalism.” Once he got that out of the way, Costas argued that the Putin primer was merely a set up for the conversation with Remnick — and not a comprehensive “profile” of the Russian strongman. “That was not a profile of Putin,” Costas told O’Reilly. “It was a set up to a conversation in which Putin would immediately be called an autocrat and his desire to expand the former Soviet empire, now the Russian empire, his desire to make his nation more and more influential and consequential on the international stage. That was the whole thing — not an hour later, not after a commercial — contiguous to it.”
And regarding McCain, Costas alleged on “The O’Reilly Factor” that the senator was “improperly briefed about what I had said. He has rightly worked up over what’s going on in Syria and what’s about to happen in Ukraine. And he said some things about me that were ill-considered.” So Costas called McCain and got a return call: “Before I could say one word other than hello, he said, ‘Bob, I apologize. I have seen what you said in full context.’ . . . He then tweeted a link.”
Perhaps Costas is referring to this tweet from McCain’s official account:
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) February 25, 2014
That piece summarizes a Costas rant from later in the NBC coverage, by which time violence in Ukraine had distracted from Putin’s Olympic moment. Here, Costas really stuck it to the Russian Federation boss, perhaps egged on a bit by the previous backlash:
The Sochi games are Vladimir Putin’s games, from their inception to their conclusion, and all points in between. If they are successful on their own terms, as appears to be the case, then at least in some corners it will help to burnish the image of a regime with which much of the world takes significant issue. No amount of Olympic glory can mask those realities any more than a biathlon gold medal, though hard-earned and deeply satisfying as it is, can put out the fires in Kiev.
Good stuff there. Costas has the fortune and misfortune of serving as the face for what could be the most media-nitpicked event in the history of media. Not only are media critics watching NBC Olympic coverage closely, everyone is watching closely. Such is the double impact of the network’s Olympic exclusivity and the extraordinary worldwide interest in the games. And in the spirit of picking nits, the Erik Wemple Blog will assert its one quibble with that Putin primer that caused so much angst. It has to do with the line in Costas’s Putin thing when he references “laws viewed as repressive to members of the gay community and their supporters.”
Italic text inserted to highlight a core journalistic question: Can’t you just call these laws “anti-gay”?