Forget the tape delay. Forget the weird cutting of certain events. Forget the obsessive focus on American athletes at the expense of covering the whole games. Forget the substanceless pool- and track-side interviews. From a sheer editorial judgement perspective, the biggest question about NBC’s coverage of the 2012 London Olympics has got to be how this video, “Bodies in Motion,” (NBC has, perhaps wisely, declined to make it embeddable), which features slow-motion shots of female athletes’ bodies set to music so cheesily porn-like it’s hard to believe that this isn’t a video someone made to parody the focus on female Olympians’ bodies.
The cluelessness of it even extends to the written description for the video: “Check out these bodies in motion during the Olympic Games,” as if the women it’s portraying, none of whom are identified by name, or country, which might have been a petty distraction from ogling, are inanimate objects rather than people. This utterly contentless video, which communicates nothing about the events these women are participating in or what it takes to perform them, might meet the editorial standards at Maxim, though the video quality isn’t even particularly impressive. There is no way it should pass the editorial standards for a news organization.
And yes, it’s a dumb viral video. But it’s a reminder of how much this Olympics, which has been a terrific one for women in so many ways, has brought out the uglier, stupider impulses in a lot of people, whether it’s the athletic official who suggested that British heptathalete and eventual gold medalist Jessica Ennis weighed too much, or Jere Longman’s bizarrely nasty attack on American hurdler Lolo Jones. And the video illustrates the root of many of the complaints about NBC’s coverage of the games: they’re presenting news events as if they’re entertainment. A lot of the time, that’s meant errors of ethics, like having local anchors refer to events that already passes as if they’re upcoming to hype NBC’s primetime coverage. This time, it’s an error of editorial judgement, packaging women doing their jobs, which happen to be entertaining, as if they’re eye candy. As NBC reassesses its coverage in preparation for the next games, “Bodies in Motion” should be a prime example of where the network’s judgement failed.