WEINSTEIN: Bob Costas should stop whining and apologize

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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If you disagree with sportscaster extraordinaire Bob Costas’ liberal proselytizing, you’re an extremist. At least so says the always objective Bob Costas.

Since Costas returned from anchoring NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics, he has been making the media rounds, pushing back against his conservative critics who say that he should keep his liberal bromides to himself when he is covering sporting events. Over the last year and a half, Costas has used his supposedly non-political platform to to call for stricter gun control laws and to condemn the Washington Redskins’ team name as “a slur.” Most recently, he portrayed Russian President Vladimir Putin as a great peacemaker during a video montage that opened NBC’s Olympic Games coverage in February.

“I think we live in a culture where people who are angry are more apt to weigh in or people who have an extreme view are more apt to weigh in,” Costas told Seth Meyers on NBC’s “Late Night” last week. “And they have more ways than ever to do it. And people who approve of it or like it say, ‘Hey, that was good’ when they see you on the street, you know?”

I take Costas’ “extremist” slur a bit personally. It was my story at The Daily Caller about Costas’ disgusting video montage portraying Putin in a favorable light that likely caught his attention after the Drudge Report linked to it and therefore I’m probably at least partly responsible for his recent media tour. (READ: NBC’s Bob Costas portrays Russian leader as great peacemaker)

“It was entirely out of context,” Costas complained to Bill O’Reilly last month, speaking about the media coverage of his fawning Putin montage. “This is a controversy only for those looking for the most flimsy pretext for a controversy and a kind of cut and paste thing that isn’t even journalism. That was not a profile of Putin. It was a set-up to a conversation in which Putin would immediately be called an autocrat and his desire to expand the former Soviet Empire — now the Russian Empire — his desire to make his nation more and more influential and consequential on the international stage, that was the whole thing. Not an hour later, not after a commercial, contiguous to it.”

This is total nonsense. Yes, there was a panel discussion after the montage in which Putin was criticized. My piece mentioned it. But that’s largely irrelevant. For many viewers, the montage Costas put together was probably their first real introduction to Putin and it portrayed him as a great peacemaker on the world stage, instead of what he is: a thug who supports the world’s worst regimes. Why couldn’t the clip have provided an honest portrait of Putin instead of one that could just have easily been aired on Russian propaganda television?

Costas also argues that critics, like myself, ignored “the mountain of evidence that contradict” the narrative that he was soft on Putin.

“If they cared about fairness and facts, they would have taken a look at all the things that I said in primetime,” he told Howard Kurtz on Fox News’ “Media Buzz” last month.

But when Costas aired that montage, there wasn’t a “mountain of evidence” that showed him standing up to Putin. There was no evidence.

Sure, Costas went on to be more critical of Putin as the Olympics progressed. We can’t know for sure what prompted the change in tone from the opening montage, but it’s reasonable to believe the media pushback played a part. Whatever the reason, good for him.

As a general rule, I don’t think sportscasters like Costas should subject captive audiences that turn in to watch a football or baseball game to political lectures. But in the case of the Sochi Olympics, I do think there was a place for Costas to speak out against Putin’s increasing authoritarianism and immoral foreign policy. His opening montage did just the opposite, portraying one of the most insidious actors on the world stage as a great peacemaker. For that, he should be ashamed — and you hardly have to be a right wring extremist to think so.

If Costas understands Putin’s villainy, as he says he does, he should have just admitted he and NBC made a mistake in airing the laudatory montage and apologized. He decided instead to just call all his critics right wing extremists. Classy move, Bob.

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Jamie Weinstein