An analyst who was hired by NBC to "serve as an Asia expert," and who angered Koreans with his description of Japan's relationship with Korea during its occupation of that country, was hired only for the opening ceremony and will have "no further role" on the air during the Pyeongchang Games.
Joshua Cooper Ramo, who is co-CEO of former secretary of state Henry Kissinger's consulting firm as well as a board member of Starbucks and FedEx, had said that South Korea is grateful for Japan's role in its economic development, which remains a sore spot because of the brutality of Japan's occupation from 1910 to 1945. Among other things, Japan's army enslaved Korean females as "comfort women" during that time.
"Every Korean will tell you that Japan is a cultural, technological and economic example that has been so important to their own transformation," Ramo said during the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Games on Friday.
The comment proved controversial in South Korea, and NBC immediately apologized.
"South Korea and POCOG [the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games] have been exceptional hosts in every way for these Olympics, and we have great admiration and respect for the people here. We apologized quickly both in writing and on television for a remark made by one of our presenters during Friday night's opening ceremony. We're very gratified that POCOG has accepted that apology," an NBC spokesman wrote in an email Monday to The Washington Post. "We look forward to the next two weeks of competition by the athletes, and to showcasing the beauty of Korea, its culture and state-of-the-art technology."
Although an unnamed NBC official had told the Korea Times that it was possible for Ramo to do more during the Olympics, the spokesman wrote that Ramo had been hired only for the opening ceremony, and that many expert analysts are hired for brief appearances during the Games.
"We hired Joshua Cooper Ramo to serve as an Asia expert during the Opening Ceremony," the spokesman wrote. "His role was to give an overview to our viewers of the host country and this region of the world. Ramo has completed his responsibilities for NBC in Pyeongchang, and will have no further role on our air."
Over the weekend, thousands of people signed a petition demanding that NBC apologize. "Any reasonable person familiar with the history of Japanese imperialism, and the atrocities it committed before and during World War II, would find such statement deeply hurtful and outrageous," it read. "And no, no South Korean would attribute the rapid growth and transformation of its economy, technology, and political/cultural development to the Japanese imperialism."
Japan and South Korea have not fully reconciled over atrocities committed during the occupation, although Japan has expressed remorse and set up a fund in the 1990s to help victims who were sex slaves. While some say that estimates of 200,000 sex slaves are exaggerated, many South Koreans liken skeptics to Holocaust deniers.
"His incorrect and insensitive comment about Korea's history has enraged many of its people," the Korea Times noted, while the Korea Herald wrote: "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."
Maureen Ryan, Variety's chief television critic, wrote that, in NBC's broadcast of the opening ceremony, "Ramo's endless generalities about what constituted 'Asian' culture felt about as deep as a Wikipedia entry."
In its on-air apology Saturday on NBCSN, anchor Carolyn Manno read a statement that said:
"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.' We understand the Korean people were insulted by these comments and we apologize."
This hasn't been the smoothest of starts for NBC, despite its extensive experience with Olympic coverage. Katie Couric stepped in it with Dutch viewers when she explained that the country's athletes are so good at speedskating because "skating is an important mode of transportation" when the canals freeze over.
"It is probably not a news flash to tell you the Dutch are really, really good at speedskating," she said. "All but five of the 110 medals they've won have been on the speedskating oval. 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."
The network also was caught flat-footed, televising its moneymaker (figure skating) rather than the slopestyle competition in which American Red Gerard won gold. When it did cut to Gerard, it caught a profanity in a live moment. "Apologies for the language. You understand the enthusiasm involved there," Mike Tirico told viewers, according to Deadline.com.
At least skater Yura Min averted a Janet Jackson moment for the network when she managed to hold her costume together after a wardrobe malfunction.