Covering a party, not politics, in last night in Pyeongchang

Highlights from media coverage of the Pyeongchang Olympics:

GRAND FINALE: There’s a moment in NBC’s terrific documentary about the social forces surrounding the 1968 Mexico City Olympics where the late sportscaster Howard Cosell appears, declaring that “to pretend the Olympic games are sports and not political is a falsity.” That resonated during the telecast of Sunday’s closing ceremonies, which were watched from the same VIP box by President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, South Korea’s president and an envoy from North Korea. That’s really quite remarkable. It got cursory attention from NBC. North Korean official Kim Yong Chol was not pointed out and, in the snippet shown of an interview Trump gave to Peter Alexander, she was good-naturedly asked what winter Olympic sport she’d like to participate in if she could. Now, we get that the closing ceremony is essentially a party, and hosts Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir and Terry Gannon are ill-equipped to discuss world affairs. Mike Tirico’s closing essay revealed that NBC views the games as a two-week interlude where a divided nation can find joy and hope. Yet it’s hard not to wonder about teachable moments missed.

1968: Meanwhile, the complete opposite was true with the Serena Williams-narrated film on 1968, which neatly tied the tumult to the world today. It deserves attention. Williams delivered a sublime line when the film showed John Carlos, the American athlete who, with Tommie Smith, gave a clenched-fist salute from the winner’s podium to call attention to the treatment of blacks, visited a museum display about the moment in Washington, D.C. “It’s a short list of living people who can visit a statue of themselves,” Williams said.

LAST RACE: Marit Bjoergen striding across the finish line in the 30-kilometer cross-country ski race holding a Norwegian flag, with no competitor near her, may be a defining image coming in Pyeongchang’s final competition. After all, Norway dominated the games. Besides Bjoergen’s easy win, the race’s key moment came when Austria’s Teresa Stadlober took a wrong turn on the course, knocking her from silver medal contention to a ninth place finish. NBC’s Chad Salmela noted her confusion about the same time Stadlober realized she’d done something wrong, no mean feat since he was broadcasting the race from Connecticut off television monitors. Disappointing that NBC didn’t revisit the story to find out what happened from Stadlober’s point of view, or even to point out where she finished.

QUOTE: “I might need a bobsledder to give me a piggyback ride.” — U.S. cross-country skier Jessica Diggins, chosen as the American team flag bearer in the closing ceremony, despite racing in the arduous 30-kilometer race.

RATINGS: NBC isn’t immediately releasing viewership estimates from the last two nights of competition. Overnight estimates from the nation’s largest markets indicate they will be the two least-watched Olympic nights. NBC’s ratings were down from four years ago in Sochi but, at least at the beginning, held up better than even network executives expected. NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus put a number to that on Sunday: He said the network was able to sell an additional $20 million worth of commercial time because it initially beat the ratings guarantees that it gave to advertisers. That freed up ad time that the network initially held back as a hedge against not making those guarantees.


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