Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your home. And just because your voice reaches around the world doesn’t mean you are any wiser than when it only reached to the end of the bar. Now let’s take a peek at the Winter Olympics…

One arctic Sunday afternoon over a quarter century ago, while covering a combative football game in Green Bay for USA TODAY, I overheard the TV commentators in the press box invoking the banality: ‘It’s a war out there!’

And since I had recently returned from detailing West Africa where I saw and smelled and heard and tasted the ravishes of brutal tribal warfare I leaned over to the polished-teeth, well-coiffed ‘talking heads’ and asked: ‘Where’s the blood? The dismembered bodies? The raped women and abandoned children?’


Less than a month later such triteness was removed from TV’s sports lexicon. It ain’t no war, it’s merely a game, another piece of entertainment over-hyped to merely sell us stuff.

To put it a tad more poignantly: Anybody who’s seen war never stops seeing it.

Which brings me to the Winter Olympics near Russia’s Sochi, the $52 billion city that Putin built – perhaps trying to emulate Peter the Great’s St. Petersburg.

And let me make get this grand confession out of the way up front: I love the pomp and pageantry of the Olympics. Always have. Always will. Even if they aren’t for amateurs any more. Even if it is overpriced and overly fraught with jingoism.  I covered their grandeur at Lake Placid, the site of Eric ‘The Gold’ Heiden, the Olympics most decorated Olympic speed skater, and ice hockey’s Miracle on Ice.

What I don’t like is the drama of the non-competitors. That is, the TV hosts who become personalities – aka being famous for simply being on TV — and becoming part of the story while overtly plugging and over dramatizing everything to draw in the viewers. Whatever they spew sounds like a man with his pants on fire.

But of course we all know by now that in day-to-day commerce, television, especially network, is not so much interested in the business of communications – or even entertainment. It is in the business of delivering audiences to advertisers. People are the merchandise, not the shows. The shows are merely the bait.


And what used to be a free daily bill-of-fare on TV now costs us something higher than the blue skies and white clouds of the highest ski jump. Not just for cable service, but in the products we are seduced to buy because the manufacturers had to pay so damn much for the advertising spots. In the end, we the consumers are paying for all of it.

So who benefits?

Indeed, it is capitalism where we overpay a price for everything. And TV is the triumph of machine over people. With that in mind it seems imperative that we stop to reflect: When a country wants television more than it wants clean water, it’s apparent that we’ve lost our grip.

In other words: We’ve lost our senses. And apparently common sense ain’t so common any more.

Simply put, I don’t give a crap that Bob Costas has pink eye, or red eye, or blue eye or a black eye. I don’t care how many hours Matt Lauer has had to work. There are no union hours at the Olympics.

I don’t care, as a tabloid or two more than intimated, that NBC’s Costas and Lauer and weather guy Al Roker and news anchor Brian Williams are all supposedly involved in some sexual extra curricular activities.

I flush such thoughts at least twice.

These are people who actually ‘do’ nothing. Their jobs are to communicate what other people are actually doing. Although they come into our family rooms, they are not family. They are hucksters.

And I don’t care if these TV rappers are homophobic necrophiliacs. Husband beaters or tax cheaters. Their jobs are merely to report the news. Make it interesting and entertaining. That’s it. Otherwise it’s Too Much Information.

They are not the story. Especially at the Olympics where the story is the kids, who may be bought and sold, but are at least striving over years of persistent redundancy and repetition to put on one of the greatest shows on earth. It’s a pure competition against time, and against the judges who may misjudge from time to time.

Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you probably wouldn’t have in your home. Need I remind you that being a personality is not the same as having a personality. And just because your voice reaches around the world doesn’t mean you are any wiser than when it only reached to the end of the bar.

Admittedly I am a former print journalist. And veteran print editors and reporters at places like the ‘Times’ and ‘The New Yorker’, as well as a plethora of other noble journalistic enterprises, manage to feed and clothe their families without costing their companies a million-or-two bucks a month. Furthermore, they produce a great deal more valuable reporting and analysis than do the heftily overpaid network news stars who depend almost entirely on their hustling producers.

And where do the producers get most – if not all – of their story ideas? From the remarkable and industrious enterprising toil of the print and internet reporters and writers. Once again the farmer scratches a living while the middlemen get en-riched.

Television is merely a medium because anything well done is rare. And admittedly I don’t watch much TV… perhaps because I am afraid of becoming a diabetic. Or perhaps because it’s upswing parallels the country’s upswing in the need for psychiatry.

Whatever… Television certainly can be an effective weapon. It seems to have proved that people will look at anything rather than at themselves, or at each other. It also seems to suggest that mankind is divisible into two great classes: hosts and guests.

Well, I ain’t no guest at a party hosted by someone or something I am paying for. That’s like saying I am a guest in America. And even though I may be made to feel like an outlier from time to time, if I am a guest at the club I want more guest privileges.

Look, when I host a party I merely hope my guests get along. But if not, then it gets to be a real interesting dètente.

I remember a little TV generated discourse at the Lake Placid Winter Olympics in 1980. It involved the former U.S. and World pair skating champions of the beautiful Tai Babilonia and her partner Randy Gardner. They were favored to win Olympic gold over the reigning Olympic Russian champions.

However, Randy pulled a groin muscle and the American couple had to withdraw – disappointing TV because there wasn’t going to be any great showdown over-promoted between us and the former U.S.S.R.

But then ‘somehow’ a buz unexpectedly started abounding. Some judges were ‘suddenly’ concerned about whether it was officially legal where the Russian skater placed his hand in lifting his female partner, who happened to be his wife.

It was a made for TV hyperbole.

So I wrote a column to put an end to this TV manufactured ice-scapade. I simply asked: Excuse me if I happen to be wrong, but since when does it rightly matter where a husband puts his hands on his wife?


As with everything there are certain matters that should remain hands off. And I just didn’t want TV and its hosts putting his or her heavy hands on the Olympic party. After all, it’s just a game. The true stars are not the people who may be best at what they do; they are merely the people who want it most.

And that’s entertainment.

And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…

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