I've paid very little attention to the Olympics, primarily because I lack the inner strength to suffer through the NBC coverage of the games. Instead of showing viewers, you know, the Olympics, they broadcast the occasional event in which an American – more accurately, one of a small handful of Americans deemed marketable – is expected to do well. There are events other than swimming, gymnastics, basketball, and the 100m dash, believe it or not. By following the No Americans = No Coverage rule, NBC (and the rest of the American media) missed one of the few legitimately interesting and compelling things to happen so far.
In a fencing match between a South Korean, Shin A Lam, and a German, Britta Heidemann, Shin was leading with 1 second on the clock, meaning all she needed to do was go one second without being touched to win. Unfortunately for her, the timekeeper – who turned out to be a 15 year old (!) volunteer (!!!) – did not start the clock when the match resumed, giving the German extra time to land a hit on Shin and win. One second was actually more than three seconds.
The South Koreans appealed, and the appeal process required the athlete to remain on the floor for the duration. In this case that meant 75 minutes. Seventy-five excruciating minutes of watching someone who has probably spent her entire life preparing for something that lasts a second, and then having the accomplishment taken away by the ineptitude of the Olympic bureaucracy. So, this is what everyone watched for an hour:
I mean, why cover that when you can do another fluff piece on Michael Phelps or Douchebag of the Decade candidate Ryan Lochte? Anyone else thinking about blowing your brains out rather than sitting through another Andrea Kremer Q & A? Yeah, I thought so.
But it's just the Olympics and sports are an irrelevant distraction, you say. You're not wrong. Yet this is symptomatic of the provincial attitude that dominates all news coverage in the US, not merely the Olympics. What the cable networks euphemistically call "World news" is a small part of all coverage and is inevitably America-centric anyway, focusing on wars (at least those of interest to the US) and economic news covered from the what-it-means-for-America perspective. As ignorant as most Americans are about their own country, our domestic knowledge is genius-level compared to what we know about the rest of the world. That ignorance has practical consequences; it's relevant that lots of Americans believe that Canadians and Brits have to wait a year to see a doctor or that France is the last bastion of Marxism-Leninism. We hear bits of foreign news filtered through our established stereotypes about other countries – the bi-weekly "Mexico overrun by drug lords" story tells us what we expect to hear without bothering with the minutiae of, I don't know, why Mexico is a narco-state and what might solve the problem.
In 2004 during the coverage of the Indian Ocean tsunami, possibly the most destructive natural disaster in recorded history, several cable networks noted separately the death toll – eventually around 200,000 – and the number of Americans killed – something like 75. I remember being taken aback by the tone of that coverage, the assumption that American viewers either cannot, or do not care to, identify with 200,000 dead (brown) people but might consider this a legitimate human interest story if we point out that a few dozen American vacationers may have been in there as well. The implication that the lives were somehow differently valuable based on nationality was…I'd say shocking, but in reality its par for the course with the US media. All of our news, whether it covers sports or major world events, is passed through the "How does this affect ME?" filter in an effort to prevent us from learning anything we don't absolutely have to know, or learning much of anything at all for that matter.
Shin lost, by the way. The officials boned her a second time after the lengthy delay, despite video evidence of the rule violation.