Perspective on mood varies at CBS, NBC ATLANTA OLYMPICS

Media Watch

July 29, 1996|By Milton Kent

After Saturday morning's bombing of Centennial Olympic Park, did the city of Atlanta bounce back yesterday and show resilience and defiance at the specter of terrorism, or was it still enveloped in a fog of gloom and despair?

On "Sunday Morning," two correspondents were proclaiming that the Olympics, and by extension, Atlanta, always would be scarred by the pipe bombing that killed one person directly, left a Turkish cameraman, who was attempting to cover the blast, dead of a heart attack and injured more than 100 people.

Meanwhile, on "Meet the Press," Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell and Billy Payne, head of the Atlanta organizing committee, were declaring that the city was vibrant and moving forward. On the Olympic telecasts, there were plenty of pictures of smiling people, participants and spectators.

Which vision was the right one? Quite likely, elements of all of them were, and the stark differences are explained by the thing that answers all questions in television: money.

For the uninitiated, "Sunday Morning" is a CBS program, and "Meet the Press" and the Olympic telecasts are NBC productions. NBC has a significant financial investment in these Olympics, and virtually all of them through 2008, whereas for CBS, ABC, CNN and ESPN, the Games are programming to be countered for nine or more hours a day.

That's not to suggest that coverage would be improperly tilted on either side to show something that wasn't there or to totally ignore significant developments. Indeed, Payne and Campbell did come in for some grilling on "Meet the Press," and other networks besides CBS weighed in with hard questions and shots of happy Olympic spectators.

But the difference is emphasis. Viewers certainly haven't seen the volume of "Glitch Games" stories on NBC that there have been on other networks, and it would be naive to think that the financial aspects of the Games didn't play a role in that.

The good

Though the quality of announcing during the Olympics has been spotty at best, NBC's pictures quite often have been spectacular.

In particular, the ground-level camera that follows the sprinters down the runway at Olympic Stadium has provided the viewer a terrific perspective on just how quickly these athletes move and how tight the races can be.

The bad

Just when you thought NBC's "storytelling" approach couldn't get more patronizing or more syrupy, there was 40 minutes of infamy last night in which we were presented the Kerri Strug and Carl Lewis features, which pulled on every heart string and irritated every tear duct.

Does the Peacock gang think viewers are so stupid that they can't watch a telecast without having every emotional button pushed? Enough saccharine, already, NBC. Give us the Games, straight and neat.

The ridiculous

What was Tim Russert, an allegedly level-headed journalist, thinking at the end of "Meet the Press" when he looked gleefully into the camera and exclaimed "Go USA," after urging the audience to "enjoy the Olympics"? That kind of jingoistic, self-promotional nonsense is bad enough coming from sportscasters, much less from a so-called newsman.

Pub Date: 7/29/96

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