Friday’s Opening Ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in South Korea were, by most accounts, spectacular. NBC’s coverage of the spectacle, on the other hand, was considered hit and miss. Occasionally disastrous.
It wasn’t so much the hosts, Katie Couric and Mike Tirico, who annoyed critics, but rather the network’s analyst, Joshua Cooper Ramo.
Slate wrote that Ramo’s commentary amounted to bland trivia about Asia “seemingly plucked from hastily written social studies reports” — such as his observation that white and blue flags stood for North and South Korean unity. Variety compared his commentary to a Wikipedia article.
But Ramo’s big misstep came when he noticed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan in the crowd and offered what he knew about the country’s history with Korea.
Japan was “a country which occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945,” Ramo said, correctly (though he did not mention that historians say the Japanese army forced tens of thousands of Koreans into sex slavery.)
“But,” Ramo continued, “every Korean will tell you that Japan as a cultural and technological and economic example has been so important to their own transformation.”
This was definitely not correct. Every Korean did not agree that Japanese colonialism had its upside. In fact, thousands signed a petition demanding that NBC apologize for Ramo’s statement.
“His incorrect and insensitive comment about Korea’s history has enraged many of its people,” the Korea Times observed.
“Some say it’s questionable whether Ramo has been even following the news leading up to the current Olympics, as some of the disputes between South Korea and Japan erupted even during the preparation phase of the games,” the Korea Herald added, mentioning as an example the unified Korean flag that Ramo liked so much.
In fact, the Herald reported, an earlier flag design had outraged Japan because it included a group of islets still claimed by both countries.
Japan and South Korea have not even fully reconciled over atrocities committed during the occupation. While the Japanese government has expressed remorse and set up a fund in the 1990s to help victims it once referred to as “comfort women,” some politicians and academics claim estimates of 200,000 sex slaves are exaggerated. Many South Koreans, in turns, compare those skeptics to Holocaust deniers.
The morning after the Opening Ceremonies, NBC apologized for Ramo’s remarks. “We understand the Korean people were insulted by these comments,” an anchor said during a Saturday broadcast, according to MSN.
In a statement to The Washington Post, NBC Sports said that the network also apologized in writing and that “we’re very gratified that [the PyeongChang Olympics] has accepted that apology.”
Yahoo Sports reported this was the second time that Ramo, who co-directs a think tank founded by former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, has appeared as an Olympics analyst for NBC. He shared an Emmy Award for his commentary during Beijing’s Summer Games in 2008.
Ramo could not be immediately reached for comment. An NBC official told The Post that his assignment is over.
Anna Fifield contributed to this report.