Five-ring Circus

The Olympics Rage-o-Meter

Introducing Slate’s daily look at how much America hates NBC’s coverage from Sochi.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach speaks during the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics on Feb. 7, 2014.

Photo by Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

In 2008, Slate introduced the world to the Sap-o-Meter, the first ever empirical evaluation of the schmaltziness of NBC’s Olympics coverage. In 2010 and 2012, the Sap-o-Meter returned, steadfast in its dedication to tallying up words like adversity, determination, inspiration, and—of course—mom. Always mom.

How have we rewarded the Sap-o-Meter after all these years of loyal service? By tearing it apart and selling it for scrap. By now, we all know that Bob Costas and pals turn on the sap spigot when the Olympics take center stage. There is no need for a spoiler alert: In Sochi, there will be a whole lot of moms.

Rather than guzzle down all that sugary-sweet sap one more time, we’ve built a new machine. This time, it’s fueled by hate. We live in an outraged age, one in which every man, woman, and child on Twitter is perpetually enraged about something or other. During the next two weeks, that concentrated beam of anger will sear the plumage of the NBC peacock.

According to the social-analytics site Topsy, the hashtag #NBCFail was used 56 times on Feb. 5, the night before Olympics coverage began. On Feb. 6, that number rose to 587. And on Feb. 7, the day of the opening ceremony from Sochi, the volume of #NBCFail tweets skyrocketed to 8,504. Note that these numbers aren’t exact—they seem to change every time I load up that Topsy page. Nevertheless, the message is clear: We’ve got some Olympic-size hatred on our hands.

Over the next two weeks, we’ll scrutinize the wrath of the American people, looking at three specific questions each day: Why are we angry? How angry are we? How angry should we be?

Why are we angry? Friday’s opening ceremony began at 11 a.m. Eastern time. The British got to watch it live. So did the Canadians. NBC’s telecast, though, didn’t kick in until more than eight hours later. Thanks to the not-so-glorious return of tape delay—or, in NBC’s words, the decision to give the opening ceremony “the full pageantry it deserves”—the #NBCFail hashtag roared back to prominence for the first time since the 2012 London Games.

But that’s not all! After making Olympics nuts wait to see the fireworks and the ballerinas and the malformed snowflakes, the Peacock sliced and diced Sochi’s opening tableau. Some people were mad that NBC didn’t show the Russian police choir singing “Get Lucky” (which, in fairness, happened before the opening ceremony). More notable was the network’s move to cut down International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach’s speech, removing the language about athletes living together “with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason”—a rather shocking edit given that Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws have roiled much of the world. In a statement to Deadline, an NBC spokesperson explained, “The IOC’s President was edited for time, as were other speeches, but his message got across very clearly to viewers.” On Twitter at least, viewers did not agree.

How angry are we? Pretty damn angry. Rationing television coverage makes Americans very, very ornery.

And here’s what Grantland’s Mark Harris had to say about NBC’s explanation for chopping down the IOC president’s speech:

How angry should we be? It is an abomination that the Canadians have better Olympics coverage than we do. This must not stand, NBC—you have brought shame upon the greatest collection of boob-tubers that the world has ever seen. That being said, the opening ceremony is really the only part of the Olympics that NBC doesn’t show live either online or on one of its various cable platforms. If NBC has forsaken us, then, it’s a one-night-only forsaking.

As far as cutting down Thomas Bach’s anti-discrimination statement—yeah, that was dumb. Indefensible, really. Even if NBC’s intent wasn’t to stifle Bach’s message, that’s how it looked, and the Peacock’s nothing-to-see-here, after-the-fact explanation was rather lame.

Rage-o-Meter Score: The scourge of tape delay plus a bowdlerized message of tolerance—it’s no 1620 Japan Air Mute Grab, but that will still be a tough rage combo to top as the games roll on.

For the opening weekend from Sochi, we’ll give NBC a five on our six-point rage scale. At this point, the Peacock has not quite been burned to a crisp by the Rage-o-Meter’s scalding torch, but it’s not all that far from fully barbecued.

Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Sochi Olympics.