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Want to feel good? Watch Olympics on NBC
Television » If you want in-depth reporting about Russia, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
First Published Feb 04 2014 10:58 pm • Last Updated Feb 04 2014 10:58 pm

If you’re interested in highlights of athletic competition and a look at Russia through rose-colored glasses, NBC’s coverage of the Sochi Winter Games is perfect for you.

If you’ve watched any of the Olympics the network has aired since 1988, you know exactly what to expect — a mix of sports and features, with the focus on the positive.

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Just don’t expect to see much about the repressive Russian government. Or about Russia’s anti-gay laws, which have brought widespread condemnation of President Vladimir Putin’s regime.

NBC’s Olympics coverage is what it is. It’s a travelogue designed to entertain Americans. And NBC does an outstanding job of bringing that into our living rooms.

If you’re looking for news about the country that’s hosting the Games, chances are you’re going to have to look elsewhere.

Months ago, NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus said his network was "watching" the anti-gay laws "very closely" and would "address it if it becomes an issue."

Given that the Olympics are in Russia, it would seem to be an issue. But NBC is in business with Russia — which is always a dangerous position for a journalist.

Every network that has a contract with a sports franchise has to balance legitimate, negative news coverage with the fact that it will tick off its partners.

Sometimes, it’s quite clear. Despite denials, nobody actually believes that ESPN wasn’t influenced by the NFL back in 2003 when it canceled the TV series "Playmakers" — a drama that fictionalized pro football in a way that did not reflect well on the league.

Other times, it’s more subtle. Do you cover the latest embarrassing arrest of an NFL player if you have a contract to telecast NFL games? How do you cover it?

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So it’s no surprise that NBC is treading lightly with any criticism of Russia.

In a recent teleconference with reporters, NBC’s Queen of Olympic Features, Mary Carillo, couldn’t have moved more quickly to distance herself from a question about whether any of her pieces will touch on those anti-gay laws.

"We haven’t done anything on that," she said.

Carillo then talked about a feature on Lake Baikal, "the Galapogos of Russia." About her stories on the Trans-Siberian Railroad; nesting dolls; Fabergé eggs; vodka; and Russian billionaires. She brought up a story that didn’t really have anything to do with Russia — her trip to a volcanic island off the coast of Scotland where the volcanic rock that’s turned into all of the world’s curling stones is obtained.

Carillo talked on and on, leading the conversation away from the original question. She really didn’t want to talk about anything negative in regards to Russia, "It really is a remarkable place with remarkable people," she said.

It’s not just the anti-gay laws we won’t be seeing much about on NBC. CBS’ "60 Minutes" recently did a report on how huge contracts to build hugely expensive Olympic sites went to Putin’s friends. And a report on how the Russians are dealing with suspected terrorists.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for that on NBC.

You can certainly argue that Olympic coverage should be about the athletic events and, to some degree, sending home postcards from the hose country. As long as you go into this expecting nothing more, you won’t be disappointed.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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