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How US Media Botched Coverage of Swimmers at 2016 Rio Olympics
Late Night Ends in Alleged Robbery
The media is often the target of criticism; sometimes justly for purposefully or unintentionally bias coverage, and in other cases by those who would like to manipulate others in believing in unfounded conspiracies. Donald Trump and his campaign are a perfect example of the latter. Unfortunately, the news coverage by most media outlets in the United States of an alleged robbery of swimmers, including star, Ryan Lochte, in Rio de Janeiro falls in the former.
First, let's look how the story unfolded. The supposed robbery took place on Sunday August 14 in the early hours following the swimmers attendance of a party with the French Olympic delegation. After the party in the neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca in Rio de Janeiro's safest and tourist heavy area, Zona Sul, the swimmers claim their taxi was stopped by men posing as police officers. Upon being forced out of the taxi and shoved to the ground, Lochte claims a gun was pointed at his forehead, and he and his teammates were robbed.
The media caught wind of the story from Lochte's mother, Illeana Lochte, who stated that the swimmers were in a taxi, were stopped by people with guns and disposed of their wallets. Illeana's report was initially denied by the International Olympic Committee, but corroborated by the US Olympic Committee.
Things got dicier when Ryan Lochte gave an interview with NBC stating that they were robbed by men with a police badge, who had forced them to the ground.. He repeated the claim that a gun was pressed to his head. The initial report seemed believable, even by Brazilians, given the city's reputation for crime.
News of athletes - or anyone for that matter - in Rio being robbed would not be a surprise for anyone including Brazilians and even Cariocas, as Rio's natives are called. Rio is a crime ridden city with issues ranging from social inequality, drug abuse, especially crack use, police brutality, kidnappings and more. Large neighborhoods, such as the favela, Alemao, are run by gangs, and are rarely visited by outsiders, even by police.
Rio is just as infamous for street crime like muggings and robberies. Anyone experienced with the city knows not to wear flashy jewelry or sunglasses, and not to whip out a cellphone or else subject oneself to the high possibility of theft.
According to a piece by British newspaper, Daily Mail, out of the 50 cities worldwide with the highest homicide rates, Brazil owns 21 spots. Add to this an economic crisis not seen since the 1930's and a political situation that has resulted in the ouster of the Speaker of the House and the suspension of current president, Dilma Rousseff, Rio was a pressure cooker prior to the commencement of the games.
Of course, this wasn't lost on Brazilian authorities, politicians or the public. As an American living in Brazil for the last five years, I heard constant complaints about the spending on Olympic preparations - and lack of spending on public programs - and the incompetence that led to one disaster after another. Throw on top of that the Zika Virus and the lack of participation from big stars like Lebron James and Stephen Curry. If Brazilians had it all over again, they would probably say "nao, obrigado" to the International Olympic Committee.
Even so, it was too late to say "no." Subsequently, Rio and Brazil took precautions, which included bringing in 5,000 additional military and police personnel from around the country to ensure safety for athletes and fans alike. Following the terrorist attack in Nice, France, Brazilian authorities quickly worked with teams from France, the United States and other countries to guarantee that ISIS or other terrorist networks couldn't use the games for their disgusting propaganda.
It is in this context that Brazilians were considerably upset to hear the news of the four US swimmers being robbed. It was a story they were familiar with, one they hoped wouldn't have come true, and one they became suspicious about as details started being released to the public.
Holes in Their Stories
The first suspicion that Brazilian authorities had regarding the police reports given by US swimmers Ryan Lochte, James Feigen, Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz was the inconsistencies between Lochte's story and that of the other swimmers. On Wednesday, Lochte changed some details of his account claiming they were robbed at the gas station after using a toilet, and that the gun that had previously been pressed against his head was simply pointed at his head. Lochte's lawyer claims these are minor differences.
Another inconsistency is that Lochte said a single robber approached the athletes and demanded money, while Feigen said that several robbers approached them, while one was armed. Inconsistencies may be believable given the stress victims face in armed robbery. Then again, why in such a situation did the swimmers return back to the Olympic Village in such high spirits?
The other possible reason for their inconsistencies could be the fact that they were drunk, which would also put into question basically all their testimony considering their altered mental states.
However, police suspicions were soon corroborated when the Daily Mail released footage showing the swimmers returning to the Olympic Village in high spirits. Laughing and goofing around, the swimmers had the look of late night party revelers not victims of a horrendous, chilling crime as described by Lochte. The video also shows the swimmers with valuables that they claimed had been stolen.
The video also shows the swimmers returning to the Olympic hours later than they had reported to the police.
Lochte stated that he and his fellow swimmers did not tell the USOC about the robbery out of fear of being punished. Rio's police counter Lochte's account by stating the swimmers' accounts conflict each other, details are murky and that the swimmers were drunk upon arrival at the Olympic Village. Drunkenness could very well have accounted for Lochte's failing memory, a factor US media largely ignored.
And it is here where US media dropped the ball. Instead of reporting the Daily Mail footage, they continued with headlines focusing on travel fears that Americans would have when traveling abroad. As of 10:30 a.m. today, NBC's headline on the story is "Two U.S. Swimmers Pulled Off Plane in Rio Amid Robbery Probe." Not once does the piece mention the footage from the Daily Mail, though, it had been available for more than a day.
The highly respected, New York Times, had a similar headline just 16 hours ago and failed to mentioned to Daily Mail footage.
CNN's headline was "Curious case of US swimmers in Rio." At no point did the news network acknowledge the doubts in the swimmers' stories, despite the available evidence.
CNN also claimed not to be able authenticate the video as if the Daily Mail was a gossip blog. The same TV station regularly reports Trump's tweets as Breaking News.
Perhaps even more disturbing was the US media outlet's total disregard for the foreign press. While Brazil is a country known for corruption, O Globo, the world's fourth largest media conglomerate, is highly respected and professional.
Police Reports Differ Among Swimmers
Evidence Keeps Piling Up Against Swimmer Claims
On Wednesday, a Brazilian judge, based on the upbeat mood of the swimmers on the Daily Mail video and inconsistencies in testimonies, ordered the seizure of Lochte's and Feigen's passports to keep them from leaving the country, though, police did not find the men when they visited the Olympic Village. Lochte was able to leave the country on Monday before the order, while Bentz and Conger were ordered off their flights yesterday.
Earlier today, video surfaced that showed the swimmers vandalizing the gas station and publicly urinating. According to the police, one of the swimmers confirmed that there was no robbery. Conger and Bentz both blamed Lochte for making up the whole story.
Despite these revelations, a legal analyst from CNN earlier today took athlete worship to a whole new level going so far as to saying that the swimmers weren't not responsible for the actions, because they were drunk. Citing non-existent legal precedence, the analyst stated that individuals can be found not responsible for their actions if they are not in control of themselves. If this lack of logic was used in the United States, we may become a crime free nation.
After making such an outrageous statement, the legal analyst than expressed pseudo rage in that someone pointed a gun at Lochte. According to the Brazilian police and eye witnesses, one of the security guards pointing the gun at the unruly and drunk Lochte to keep him under control. Apparently, the legal analyst is unaware of the proliferate use of guns in the United States and the role of security guards.
It is understandable that Lochte's lawyer would defend him with such ridiculous statements as "that video (Daily Mail video) shows me nothing - it shows guys coming home at 6 or 7 (later than the swimmers reported to the police) in the morning and shows me they're happy that they're alive," but he goes on to further try to excuse his client's behavior by pointing to Rio's crime history, despite few cases of crime in the city. It is particularly low of Lochte's lawyer to use this argument given the efforts and resources expended by the people of Rio and Brazil, and the fact that Rio has not been victim of major crime wave or terrorist attach, such as the one at the 1972 Olympics in Munich and the fatal bombing at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
Moreover, Lochte's lawyer fails to recognize that Rio is a city of millions and experiences crime just like large cities in the US like Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Again, Lochte's lawyer is paid to protect his client from prosecution, which he would face in the US for perjury.
However, it is not okay for US media to fail in their duties to ask questions and look at new with a critical eye. Still, this writer won't be holding his breath. As if publicly showing their inability or lack of desire to cover the story seriously by working with journalists in Brazil or other international media outlets, CNN resorting to citing tweets from fans.
So far, the Rio Olympics have given us great memories. Fans and athletes have experienced a new country, while competing amicably on the biggest stage. Brazilians have been able to experience the games first hand, the first time a South American country has ever hosted the event.
While Lochte and his crew owe a huge apology to Brazilians, they own an apology to their fellow athletes who have heeded the spirit of the Olympics.