Alyssa looked this week at how NBC planned to address Russia’s new anti-gay law during its coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi when the Games begin in a little less than seven months. Now an LGBT rights group has an idea for how the network can enhance its coverage.
Truth Wins Out, a group that fights anti-gay extremism, launched a petition drive this week asking NBC to make openly gay MSNBC host Rachel Maddow a “human rights correspondent” covering the Games this winter.
“The spotlight can be harsh, but Russia specifically asked for it when they submitted a bid and agreed to host the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi,” Truth Wins Out executive director Wayne Besen said in statement on the group’s web site. “People around the world want to watch and support the Olympics, but they want to do so with a clear conscience. Make a difference, NBC, by adding Rachel Maddow to the Olympic coverage as a special Human Rights Correspondent.”
“If it is still their law and it is impacting any part of the Olympics Games, we will make sure that we acknowledge it and recognize it,” Mark Lazarus, the head of NBC’s sports group, said at a Television Critics Association event Sunday. Right now, it seems that the law might not affect the Games, since the International Olympic Committee says it has received pledges from Russian lawmakers that the law won’t apply to Olympic athletes, fans, or media members.
As Alyssa wrote, though, the law will likely still apply to Russian citizens and foreigners who aren’t in the immediate vicinity of the Games, and it will certainly continue applying to them after the Olympics are over. It’s one thing for the IOC to only care about the implications of the law during the Games, but as a media organization NBC doesn’t necessarily have or deserve that luxury. How the law affects the Olympics may be the easiest story to find, but how the law will continue affecting Russians after the Olympics are gone is certainly a story too, especially as another major sporting event, the 2018 World Cup, will occur on Russian soil not long after.
Sending a gay journalist to Sochi as a political statement isn’t NBC’s job. But producing quality journalism is, and Truth Wins Out argued in the statement that sending a reporter who is also a member of the community Russia is marginalizing could give NBC a unique coverage angle that would allow it to replicate the kind of provocative sports coverage it has done in the past. In addition to that, Maddow has a long record of covering foreign policy on her MSNBC show, including protests in Egypt, the Haiti earthquake, and legislative efforts to outlaw homosexuality and target LGBT people in countries like Uganda.
Sporting events, even the Olympics, aren’t always about feel-good stories, and NBC has allowed its coverage to make that plain before, like when Bob Costas questioned George W. Bush about China’s human rights record during the Beijing games in 2008 or when Costas challenged American gun culture in the immediate aftermath of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide last fall.
“Rachel has the expertise and the instincts to tell this full story to a viewing audience who are appalled by the treatment of their Russian brothers and sisters,” Truth Wins Out associate director Evan Hurst said. “Adding her to NBC’s coverage won’t fly in the face of the Olympic spirit, but rather enhance it, as there is nothing in the ethics or the history of the Olympic Games that can coexist peacefully with the war Russia is waging against her own citizens, and the rest of the world needs to know.”