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NBC handling of luger death ruins Olympics for me

I don't want to throw cold water on NBC's celebratory coverage of the Winter Olympics and its daily self-congratulatory ratings reports. But some mention needs to be made of the story NBC does not appear to have tried very hard to report. I also need to explain to readers of this blog why I cannot get excited about the Olympics this year no matter how many beaming young American athletes Bob Costas & Co. try to create epic narratives for.

I can't get past the way NBC is handling the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumarishtavili. It's been more than a week now. I gave NBC a pass at first when it let Olympic officials blame Kumarishtavili's death on the luger rather than the course. I told myself NBC was just holding its powder while its news division, which was on hand in full force with anchorman Brian Williams broadcasting from the games, investigated the matter.

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Silly me. It now appears NBC News was doing no such thing.

It took the "New York Times" to report that a Venezuelan luger had warned Canadian officials repeatedly starting in November that the track was needlessly dangerous after he was seriously injured in a crash much like the one that killed the Georgian.

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In response to the journalistic efforts of the "Times" and other reports of a Georgian coach utterly rejecting claims of luger error, the International Luge FederationThursday announced that it would do a complete review of all sliding events at the Olympics -- after the games.

And where was NBC News on this story the past week? Apparently, not in hot pursuit. Thursday, MSNBC.com ran a cut-and-paste piece "compiled from staff and wire reports" stating the ILF had announced the review. There was not a shred of original reporting or enterprise in it.

Fool me once....

When someone dies because on a ride at even the sleaziest amusement park, that ride is shut down until it can be determined to be safe. Ditto at the sleaziest restaurant when someone dies or becomes seriously ill from the food.

Don't you think NBC should have at least offered that point of view last week in the wake of that death?

Instead, after reporting the death on Feb. 12, NBC offered a drippy feature the next day that spoke of the anguish of an Olympic official and showed images of flowers near the spot where the luger died. Costas spoke with sadness of the 21-year-old luger being denied the chance to compete -- as if that mattered compared with being killed on that course.

Maybe by nature of its contract with the games NBC Sports was too conflicted for that kind of storytelling. But there is no reason the beleaguered network could not have done its journalistic duty by having its news division at least try to report the story as the" Times" did -- and test the claim that it was luger error that caused the death.

So, I'm sorry. Enjoy the games. Get caught up in all the phony narratives they build and spin for the athletes. There is, after all, so much young energy and life to concentrate on -- rather than dwelling on the death of one athlete from a land far away.

But not me. I've had enough of NBC Sports and NBC News and their ideas of storytelling and journalism at the Olympic games.

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