The Biggest Gaffes in NBC’s Olympics Coverage So Far
Well, no one’s contracted pink eye yet—but the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea have already provided a few choice moments for those paying closer attention to the broadcast sideshow than to the athletes. After a couple of gaffes regarding South Korea and the Netherlands, NBC has already been ridiculed and even forced to apologize; it’s also had to grapple with a heavily promoted event being delayed due to weather. Just a reminder, it’s been only four days since the Games’ opening ceremony.
The trouble started with Katie Couric’sbizarre explanation for why the Dutch are “really, really good at speedskating.”
“All but five of the 110 medals they’ve won have been on the speedskating oval,” Couric said during Friday’s opening ceremonies. “Now, ‘Why are they so good?’ you may be asking yourselves. Because skating is an important mode of transportation in a city like Amsterdam, which sits at sea level. As you all know, it has lots of canals that can freeze in the winters. So, for as long as those canals have existed, the Dutch have skated on them to get from place to place, to race each other, and also to have fun.”
As whimsical as it might be to imagine an entire city commuting to work via frozen canal—perhaps clad in adorable matching hats and gloves—Couric’s explanation was not true, as several actual Dutch people pointed out on social media. Yes, the Dutch commute like everyone else, even in the winter months.
But Friday’s coverage also brought a more egregious statement from NBC analyst Joshua Cooper Ramo, who made a curious assertion about Japan and Korea. Though the former country occupied the latter for decades, he said, “every Korean will tell you that Japan as a cultural and technological and economic example has been so important to their own transformation.” The backlash against Ramo’s comments came quickly, as critics pointed out that he’d glossed over some of the more harrowing details of Japan’s occupation. As The Korea Times put it, “His incorrect and insensitive comment about Korea’s history has enraged many of its people. Tens of thousands of Koreans and non-Koreans alike have criticized Ramo and NBC Sports on their social media, urging them to correct this misinformation and apologize.”
Ramo was officially plucked off air on Monday, and the network has already apologized for him. “During our coverage of the Parade of Nations on Friday we said it was notable that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the trip to Korea for the Olympics, ‘representing Japan, a country which occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945 but every Korean will tell you that Japan is a cultural, technological and economic example that has been so important to their own transformation,’“ NBC said in a statement. “We understand the Korean people were insulted by these comments and we apologize.”
In a statement to The Washington Post, the network added, “we’re very gratified that [the PyeongChang Olympics] has accepted that apology.”
And on a lighter note, there was skier Mikaela Shiffrin’s milestone giant slalom run—which NBC promoted heavily before it was delayed just three hours before its scheduled start time on Sunday, due to dangerously cold and windy weather conditions. Truthfully, such delays are common at the Winter Olympics, but the subsequent schedule re-shuffle does mark yet another bump in the road for the network. Shiffin’s debut has been moved to Thursday (Wednesday in the U.S.); per Dan Hicks, it will be “sandwiched around the Men’s Downhill.” To make matters even more challenging for Shiffrin, she will now have to complete her slalom and her newly rescheduled giant slalom on the same day. As past gold medal skier Bode Miller said on NBC, “I think it is tough physically and probably a little bit mentally to have back-to-back races. But the reality is, Mikaela is the best racer out here.”
Get Vanity Fair’s HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:The Best Sights at the 2018 Olympics Opening CeremonyLaura BradleyLaura Bradley is a Hollywood writer for VanityFair.com. She was formerly an editorial assistant at Slate and lives in Brooklyn.