Not since Marco Polo has anyone traveled so far up China’s Silk Roadwith such amoral élan. But there was Jacques Rogge, president of theIOC, knight of the court of King Leopold’s Belgium, three-timeOlympian in the grand sport of yachting, standing astride Beijing atthe close of the 2008 Olympic games. In front of 90,000 at the Games’he said, "Tonight, we come to the end of sixteen glorious days which we will cherish forever. Through these games, the world learned more about China, and China learned more about the world."
But what did the world really learn? From NBC’s coverage we learnedthat China is totally awesome, Michael Phelps can really swim andUsain Bolt is way fast. Oh, and there are pandas there. some of whom diedin the Sichuan earthquake. We can’t forget about the pandas.
As the Washington Post‘s veteran columnist Thomas Boswell wrote in his last missive from Beijing:
In all my decades at The Post, this is thefirst event I’ve covered at which I was certain that the main point ofthe exercise was to co-opt the Western media, including NBC, with asplendidly pretty, sparsely attended, completely controlled sportsevent inside a quasi-military compound. We had little alternative butto be a conduit for happy-Olympics, progressive-China propaganda. Isuspect it worked.
I applaud Boswell for his honesty, but it is hard to not have contempt for the aside that "we had little alternative" but to dance theinfomercial shuffle.
Boswell and the press made a choice the moment they stepped on China’s soil.
They chose not to seek out the near two million people evictedfrom their homes to make way for Olympic facilities.
They chose not to report on the Chinese citizens who tried toregister to enter the cordoned off "protest zones" only to findthemselves in police custody.
They chose not to report on the Tibetan citizens removed fromtheir service jobs by state law for the duration of the games.
They chose to not point out the bizarre hypocrisy of seeingMichael Phelps–with full media fanfare–taking a group of Chinesechildren to their first meal at McDonalds. (Even though Phelps famously eats12,000 calories a day during training, I can’t imagine much of itcomes from Mickey D’s.)