Welcome to August, traditionally known as “silly season” among journalists, the month when people are on vacation, including reporters, and the news cycle rotates more slowly, forcing media to generate stories even more ridiculous than usual.
Every four years, the goofiness is helped along by presidential campaigns and the Summer Olympics, each of which readily lends itself to varying degrees of nutty behavior. (As Ed Kilgore at Washington Monthly’s Political Animal blog noted this week, “Two words we never expected to see together: ‘Badminton Scandal.’”)
Millions of Americans are watching the excitement. The TV ratings here in the States are the highest for a non-U.S.-based Summer Games since 1976 — which may be part of the reason why domestic politics and the Olympics seem to have collided as never before. The two presidential candidates have latched on, hoping some of that Olympic gold will rub off.
There at the opening ceremony in London were both Michelle Obama and Mitt Romney cheering on Team USA. Romney may have been a little uncomfortable in the stands, just days after he offended many in the UK by questioning the readiness of the British capital for the games (although the sting may have been eased by as much as $2 million raised at a pair of London fundraisers). And he can’t have been pleased when the opening extravaganza included a celebration of socialized medicine in Britain (invented, apparently, by Mary Poppins).
Mrs. Obama was photographed being lifted American wrestler Elena Pirozhkova, President Obama was snapped phoning congratulations to Michael Phelps and the women’s gymnastics team from Air Force One, and cameras caught Governor Romney at the first day of the swimming competition.
As previously announced, the Republican presidential candidate chose not to hang around for the performance of his wife Ann’s horse, Rafalca, in the dressage events. As most agreed, a politically expedient decision, given the sport’s elite and hyper-expensive image. Currently, the horse is in 30th place, but as the British newspaper The Guardian reported, on its first day, “the 15-year-old bay Oldenburg mare acquitted herself rather well…”
“Never for a second during her seven-minute performance did a hoof stray dangerously mouthwards, nor did she do anything at all to offend or upset the host nation. From the moment she entered the Greenwich Park equestrian arena at 12.15 on Thursday afternoon, the most famous political horse since Caligula toyed with making a consul of Incitatus seemed in her element.”
Both campaigns have placed political advertising during the NBC Olympics telecasts and leaned on Olympic imagery. The Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News reported that last week the International Olympics Committee required the pro-Obama SuperPAC Priorities USA Action to pull an ad using old Olympics footage:
“United States Olympics Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky vowed that the group would ‘not allow Olympic footage to be used in any political ad, positive or negative.’”
However, the pro-Romney SuperPAC Restore Our Future uses Olympics photographs to illustrate an ad that features endorsements from past gold medalists, including Kristi Yamaguchi, and spotlights his experience as head of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games:
“’Mitt Romney brought a huge sense of hope,’ Yamaguchi, who won gold in the 1992 Olympics in figure skating, says in the ad.
’Mitt gets things done,’ adds Jimmy Shea, who won gold in the 2002 Olympics in skeleton, a racing event similar to luge.
‘Mitt allowed athletes like myself to be able to realize our dreams,’ adds Derek Parra, who won gold and silver medals in speed skating events during the 2002 Olympics.”
All three, iWatch News notes, made campaign contributions to Romney’s 2008 campaign; Yamaguchi and Parra also have given this year. Another Olympics-related donor is Sead Dizdarevic, founder and owner of ticket brokers Jet Set Sports and CoSport – Federal Elections Commission records indicate that since last year, he, his wife and Jet Set have contributed $200,000 to Restore Our Future. According to the Reuters news service, Dizdarevic “was a figure in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics scandal that led to Romney’s successful takeover of the running of those games.
“The scandal focused on allegations that Salt Lake officials bidding to lure the Olympics there had spent millions of dollars on gifts, cash payments and other benefits for IOC members involved in deciding whether to award the Games to Salt Lake City.
The scandal also involved payments that prospective vendors made to Salt Lake Olympics officials. An indictment accused two officials of receiving $130,000 from Jet Set Sports, of which CoSport is a part.
The charges eventually were tossed out by a federal judge, but not before Dizdarevic testified against the suspects after receiving immunity from prosecution.”
Jet Set Sports went on to become a sponsor of the 2002 Games, according to a former Romney aide. This year, the US Olympics Committee and several other countries’ Olympic committees designated CoSport as an “authorized ticket reseller.”
“Last week, CoSport apologized for delays that forced some customers arriving in London to spend up to six hours lined up in sweltering heat to collect their tickets. The company also said that it was ‘very sorry’ that some customers had not received the bloc seating ticket arrangements they had requested.”
This weekend, Dizdarevic is co-chairing a Romney fundraiser in Indiana.