Journalists love to preen as human rights watchdogs, congratulating themselves publicly for their roles – real or imagined – in securing the life and liberty of the downtrodden. That is, as long as it’s the right sort of downtrodden.
Take, for example, NBC’s coverage in the run up to the Sochi Winter Olympics. Because of Russian restrictions on gays’ free speechfor homosexuals, the official Olympic network repeatedly fretted about gay “human rights.” NBC speculated about the rights and safety of gay athletes and visitors to Sochi, reported extensively on Russia’s gay community, talked to every gay athlete in the NBC phone book and hyped President Obama’s appointing of prominent gays to the U.S. Olympic Delegation. Network hosts also tried to encourage athletes to make pro-gay statements while at the Games, at the risk of disqualifying themselves from competition.
All of which might not arouse comment if NBC were also reporting on the plight of Christians in war-torn Syria. Some of the world’s oldest communities of Christians of varying denominations are facing annihilation. Islamist clerics call for the slaughter of all Christians “for being infidels.” Al Qaeda-aligned rebels have kidnapped and killed nuns, priests and bishops. Islamist factions have destroyed Christian homes and churches, shelled Christian schools and took displaced entire neighborhood and village populations. The civil war has displaced millions of Syrians, but it has driven tens of thousands of Christians away in fear, and Pope Francis has spoken on the “exodus of Christians” from the country. Catholic and other Christian news organizations and international NGOs are trying to call attention to what The National Interest  called “ethnic cleansing.” More after video.
But the Peacock Network mentioned the deadly persecution of Syrian Christians only twice and indirectly, compared with the 26 mentions of gays and the Olympics.
Of course, as the Olympic network, NBC has everything to gain by hyping anything to do with the Olympics, and as a collection of liberals are naturally preoccupied with gay “civil rights.” But Syrian Christians are in a life and death situation – according to Reuters , more than 130,000 people have been killed in Syria’s civil war. That’s the kind of hard story news organizations used to pride themselves on reporting.
How serious is the situation facing Christians in Syria? Serious enough that in December, Pope Francis  called it a “great tribulation,” and insisted, “We cannot resign ourselves to thinking of a Middle East without Christians.” In January , a number of Syrian Christian clerics came to the United States to publicize the persecution and try to persuade the Obama administration to end its support  for the Islamist-dominated rebels.
Writing on CBN, Liberty University Professor of Religion Johnnie Moore said, “This is no imaginary persecution; in Syria alone there have been reports of kidnappings, Christian communities intentionally displaced by militants and, worst of all, shootings and beheadings of Christians who refused to convert to Islam.”
Here is just some of what NBC hasn’t bothered to report from Syria:
- Last October, Islamist militias killed 45 residents of the Christian town of Sadad , dumping 30 of their bodies in mass graves. A number of churches were desecrated. A January report  claims that dozens more churches across Syria have been desecrated, vandalized, looted and even destroyed.
- Rebel groups abducted two orthodox bishops in 2012. Jesuit priest Paolo Dall’Oglio has been missing and feared dead since July. Last December, in the town of Ma’loula, Islamists stormed the monastery of St. Thecla and kidnapped 12 Orthodox nuns  who had been caring for orphaned children.
- In January, an Islamist group published video of the forced conversion  to Islam of two Armenian Christian families. Another video surfaced of an Islamic cleric urging children to “slaughter all Christians for being infidels .”
Clearly, a lot of Islamist rebels have been listening. Christians make up about 10 percent of Syria’s population. But tens of thousands have been displaced within Syria, and about 45,000 – a third of the Christian population  – have fled to Lebanon and elsewhere. And that’s the result the Islamists are hoping for. In December, according to Haaretz, Maria Saada, a Christian member of the Syrian parliament, warned “The radical organizations are now attacking [Christian] children to get their parents to leave the country. In the last few days, five Christian schools have been attacked where children have been killed.”
It’s not unprecedented. In the mid-20th century, 850,000 Jews fled or were expelled from Muslim countries, and there are now almost no Jews left in Syria. So the fears of Pope Francis and other observers – are valid. History can repeat itself.
But NBC hasn’t devoted a single news report to this tragedy. Perhaps the reluctance is over deference to President Obama’s Syria policy – to show the barbarity of the rebels toward the Christians would be inconvenient for an administration that backs the former. Or perhaps it’s just the NBC no longer has the capacity to report serious news.
All Gay on the Russian Front
But NBC is probably just more comfortable worrying about Sochi. The liberal producers and reporters of NBC probably know far more gay people than they do practicing Christians, and more apt to be moved by entreaties from leftwing celebrities than by the pope.
The Russian law in question, passed June 11 and signed by President Vladimir Putin, forbids distributing “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors and bans gay pride demonstrations. Individuals face fines of up to $156, and media organizations of up to $31,000.
It’s distasteful legislation to be sure, and enforcement could be dangerous in the hands of Putin’s thugocracy. But it doesn’t call for prison or violent punishments (like the toppling of stone walls on gays – an execution favored by Islamists and something you won’t find NBC talking much about).
But immediately the law took on mammoth proportions for NBC. “The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are just about six months away,” said anchor Lestor Holt in June, “and there is growing controversy over new anti-gay laws in that country that are raising concerns about human rights and about the safety of gay people visiting Russia, also gay athletes. The International Olympic Committee is now getting involved asking questions of the Russian government.”
While the assurances of Putin and his allies may not be worth much (last month, the buffoonish mayor of Sochi said he didn’t believe there any gays in his city to begin with), the International Olympic Committee declared itself satisfied  that its charter would not be violated. “This surely came as a big relief to NBC, which would like to prevent politics from sullying the Games,” wrote Bloomberg’s Jonathon Mahler  in August.
Well NBC sure has a funny way of showing its relief, with 25 more mentions of the issue., lavishing the kind of attention on a sporting event that only economic self-interest or craven agenda-pushing demands.
But when gay and gay-friendly celebrities journalists are hurting, NBC has to move! “The law has drawn disgust from celebrities like Lady Gaga who tweeted, ‘Why didn`t you arrest me when you had the chance, Russia? Because you didn`t want to answer to the world?’” correspondent Michelle Kosinski said on Aug. 12.
Some of NBC’s personalities didn’t even get the law right. On Aug. 9, Andrea Mitchell said “[President Obama] said the best message, because of that ban in Russia on homosexuality, is for gay and lesbian athletes to come home with the gold.”
But just in case that didn’t work, NBC’s backup strategy was to hit the story relentlessly, interviewing diplomats, journalists and activists in and out of Russia. On the website of MSNBC, the networks rabidly left-wing cousin, is photo essay titled “Faces of Russia’s LBGT Community .” On “Today,” there was a parade of gay athletes and former athletes Billie Jean King, Brian Boitano, Johnny Weir, Caitlin Cahow, and Greg Louganis.
Stirring the Pot
NBC hosts like Matt Lauer made it clear the appearances of gay athletes weren’t just to flash their LGBT bona fides, and certainly not to tap their insights into competition. NBC wanted a promise of drama and protest at the Games that had nothing to do with the French judges.
Despite a pre-exisiting Olympics rule that prohibits the use of political demonstrations or symbols at the Games, NBC kept hyping the possibility of an incident. “Some advocates are suggesting that the U.S. team stage a protest on opening night by waving a rainbow-colored hankerchief to show solidarity with the gay community, at risk of being disqualified for breaking Olympic rules,” said Adrea Mitchell on Aug. 8.
“Today” host Matt Lauer practically salivated at the idea that athletes stage a Big Gay Moment. Lauer repeatedly pressed gay athletes and U.S. delegates if they would push the boundaries and break Olympics rules in making a statement at the Winter Games.
In a Dec. 19 interview with delegate and former Olympic hockey player Caitlin Cahow, Lauer prompted, “Billie Jean King said that – that perhaps it is time for a John Carlos moment. You are too young to remember that moment in 1968 in Mexico City, when – when John Carlos and Tommy Smith stood up and they gave the black power salute because they wanted to protest racial inequality. Would you be willing to be a part of some kind of a John Carlos moment in Sochi?”
Cahow disappointed him however, saying, “Honestly, I think that my John Carlos moment right now is going to Russia and being present and representing the United States.”
So Lauer posed the question to King herself, on Jan. 9. “A lot being made about the anti-propaganda laws that were passed in Russia recently,” Lauer said, with a monumental lack of self-awareness. “And a lot of people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community want some kind of a statement made in Sochi, Russia, to show the Russian government. What is the appropriate statement?”
“The appropriate statement?” King said. “I think President Obama showed it. He`s – he`s elected and selected three openly gay athletes.” When Lauer pressed her, King explained, “I know that there`s a rule, though, that they cannot – I think it`s called Rule 50, they`re not supposed to demonstrate or show any protesting. But if the media asks them a question, then they can respond accordingly is my understanding.”
In January, Lauer interviewed the third gay member of the delegation, former figure skater Brian Boitano. “Are you – are you now eager to take the message a step further as you go to Sochi as part of the official U.S. delegation? Do you intend to make a strong statement about gay rights once you get there?”
But Boitano I think the statement is already being made by us being on the delegation and Billie Jean and Caitlin and us standing together united as gay people showing that we are – you know, there is freedom of speech and we are successful human beings and athletes.”
Undeterred, or perhaps just unable to think of anything else to talk about, Lauer wouldn’t quit, “As athletes march into the stadium,” “he said, it`s expected that some, who are gay or just support gay rights, will make some kind of dramatic statement, either in their words or their gestures or their clothing. Do you encourage that?”
“You know what,” answered Boitano, “I encourage everybody to do what they feel is best for themselves.” Foiled again, Matt!
Games Networks Play
Clearly some gay athletes and officials don’t share Lauer’s fantasy of proud freedom fighter enduring Putinite water cannons and batons. While there is anti-gay violence in Russia, it’s of the street-thug variety. If they want to host Olympic games again, or maintain at least a façade of first world civilization, Russian authorities would be foolish to allow that to affect the Sochi Olympics.
Unfortunately the Islamist groups trying to purge Syria of Christians have no such concerns. Even if they did, chances are they’d get no major media coverage anyway. Certainly not from NBC. In the game of who gets human rights coverage, the network chooses the sides and the rules.
— Kristine Marsh is Staff Writer for MRC Culture at the Media Research Center. Follow Kristine Marsh on Twitter.