As part of its Olympic coverage, NBC aired a documentary of sorts about the Kerrigain/Harding debaucle of 1994. I had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I think that, as one of the seminal events that led to our current culture of exploitative journalism, exploitative television, and the merging of journalism and entertainment into one disgustingly slimy package, it was worth re-examining. On the other hand, I wondered if this was just another excuse to try and capitalize on it again, 20 years after the fact, to milk that dead horse for all it was worth--if you'll excuse me mixing my metaphors.[*](Ultimately, I thought they did a pretty good job with it; they didn't make Kerrigan out to be a martyr while demonizing Harding, but they weren't so slavishly devoted to "neutrality" to subtly point out when Harding contradicted herself. Mostly what I got from it is that one of the two of them has matured significantly over the last twenty years and one of them hasn't, and I'll leave you to guess which is which.)
Whatever the motivation, they sure did promote the documentary a lot during their Olympic coverage, which led to some pretty unsavory segues. They also posted a lot of clips from it on their Olympic website.
One of these online clips, apparently edited out of the final cut of the documentary itself, dealt with the legacy--the long-term impact--of the attack and its immediate aftermath, specifically the question of whether or not the long-term impact on the sport itself was positive. They talked to some journalists who pointed out that figure skating received a fresh surge of popularity after the incident, while Kerrigan herself and Scott Hamilton protested--correctly, in my opinion--that there were many factors in play and therefore you can't credit that figure skating renaissance in the US entirely to that one incident.
One of the journalists that they interviewed was Christine Brennan, a columnist for USA Today--who, more's the pity, apparently covers figure skating for them to this very day. Throughout the entire documentary, she spoke with this creepy, leering grin on her face, much the same way that a hyena might regard a freshly killed wildebeest. In this particular, online-only clip, in which they discussed the long-term impact of the attack, she made the following outrageous statement that I will now reproduce in its entirety:
"Obviously, it created the ultimate circus, and it sounds terrible to say this, but for a good ten years that was the best thing that ever happened to figure skating. I mean, you certainly don't root for someone to be attacked. But the attack, what Tonya and her guys did, changed the sport of skating, and everyone--every single skater--should have sent Tonya Harding a thank-you note for what she did for them."Let's pick this thing apart to reveal not only how offensive this statement is, but how revealing it is of Brennan's state of mind and her true motivations:
"it sounds terrible to say this, but for a good ten years that was the best thing that ever happened to figure skating"
It sounds terrible because it IS terrible.
"But the attack, what Tonya and her guys did, changed the sport of skating"
No, it didn't. That's a ridiculous thing to say. What, exactly, changed about the sport itself? Nothing. I mean, think about what happened after the 2002 judging scandal in Salt Lake City. THAT changed the sport of skating, in that the judging system was completely overhauled. Nothing like that happened to the sport itself after the '94 Olympics in Lillehammer. What DID change is the way that the media COVERED figure skating. They learned a lesson that has stuck with them ever since, a lesson that Christine Brennan was apparently pleased to learn and able to apply to her own advantage: Scandal sells.
"everyone--every single skater--should have sent Tonya Harding a thank-you note for what she did for them."
No. No, no, NO. That is not only wrong, that is SICK. Forgive me if it sounds like I'm overstating the matter, but that would be like saying that all the children who have been abducted since the AMBER Alert went into place should thank the man who kidnapped Amber Hagerman. That's like saying that all the gay people in the United States should thank Aaron McKinney for beating Matthew Shepard to death.
Here are the facts: after the Lillehammer Games, Nancy Kerrigan retired from competition, and Tonya Harding was finally prosecuted for crimes, stripped of her '94 national title, and banned from US figure skating for life. The one and only positive thing that the whole terrible situation did for figure skating is that it drew a lot more people into watching the Olympic figure skating competition than would probably have done so otherwise. But if the rivalry and ensuing scandal had been all that people were interested in, the popularity of the sport would have dropped off dramatically after the '94 Olympics. That people remained interested after the rivals were no longer actively involved in the sport is entirely due to the compelling beauty of the sport itself.
As offensive as they are, Brennan's comments reveal far more about how the scandal affected her than how it affected figure skating. If anyone can be said to have "benefitted" from the attack and the ensuing scandal, it is not the figure skaters but the news media. Brennan's comments show that she CLEARLY feels a debt of gratitude to Harding and her co-conspirators.[*](Conspirators after the fact, if you insist. I know that they were never able to prove that she was involved in plotting the attack, so ordinarily I'd be willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Except that, in this particular case, I can't help taking the Richard Castle approach to it, and say that the story just doesn't make any sense if she wasn't the instigator. It wouldn't hold up in court, of course, but I just can't see it any other way.) She's still feeding parasitically off of Harding twenty years after the fact; of course she feels grateful to her!
Brennan's unabashed remarks reveal the news media's unspoken, but all too apparent, mandate with regard to figure skating coverage: Find the scandal at all costs. Once you find it, exploit it. If you don't find it, create it.
Thus, when Rosie DiManno over at the Toronto Star rants and raves about the supposed anti-Canadian conspiracy in the ISU, it's a little bit hard to take her seriously. She may honestly believe what she's saying, but--thanks to Christine Brennan tipping her hand--we know that it's to her advantage to state it in the most exaggerated way possible. There's a certain amount of truth to what she says: "This sport is a thing of beauty. But there’s ugliness underneath." Yet it is nothing--NOTHING--compared to the ugliness underneath the reportage of figure skating.
I actually think that DiManno is a little bit uglier than Brennan in this regard. At least Christine Brennan doesn't pretend not to be a slimebag. Sure, she gives some lip service to not rooting for people to get hurt, but she doesn't really pretend to be anything other than the vulture that she is. That DiManno cloaks herself in righteous outrage while manipulating her readers with histrionic half-truths and unsubstantiated rumors, that she hypocritically accuses others of pro-American bias when she herself is manifestly biased in Canada's favor, is all the more despicable.
If Brennan and DiManno truly want to see villainy that knows no bounds, they should each take a long, hard look at themselves, their profession, and what their efforts have wrought over the last 20 years.