Frank Rich Compares NBC to Leni Reifenstahl: Technically Brilliant, Morally Obtuse

Frank Rich Compares NBC to Leni Reifenstahl: Technically Brilliant, Morally Obtuse

Columnist Frank Rich broke out the Nazi comparison to slam NBC’s coverage of the Sochi Olympics for casting a blind eye on the many human rights violations going on in nearby Ukraine.

In a February 21 piece for New York magazine Rich wonders if the Sochi Olympics will be compared to the 1936, Nazi-Sponsored Berlin Games so famously officiated over by Adolph Hitler because of it’s obsequious opening ceremony paying tribute to Mother Russia even as things were only days away from boiling over in neighboring Ukraine.

He is critical of the whole of the games, but especially of NBC’s coverage saying, “But there’s a noxious fiddling-while-Kiev-burns surreality to the network’s traditional upbeat Olympics packaging when people are being slaughtered in the streets some 600 miles away from Sochi and Putin continues to brutalize dissenters of all kinds in Russia itself.”

Rich points out that Chess great Garry Kasparov is also making the comparison by pointing out that in 1936 Hitler too was seen as a “legitimate politician” as Russia’s Vladimir Putin is today.

“If Putin’s authoritarian agenda of harsh and violent repression keeps metastasizing,” Rich warns, “Sochi may be remembered, as the Berlin Games are, as a giant propaganda gift bestowed on him by dupes and quislings.”

Rich goes on to say that the opening festivities were Nazi propaganda-like and so was NBC’s coverage.

“You have to wonder,” Rich said, “if future generations will judge the treacly, gung-ho Sochi coverage in years hence much as they look back now on Leni Riefenstahl’s feel-good propaganda film from the Berlin Games, Olympia–as technically impressive but morally obtuse.”

Of course, using the Nazis as a comparison is usually looked down upon no matter who or what is likened on the other hand. After all, few other situations in history since WWII are “like” the genocide that Hitler and his evil henchmen perpetrated with the Holocaust and such facile comparisons rarely do the comparer any good.

Frank Rich may be right that this year’s Olympics will, in retrospect, be a shameful reminder of where the former Soviet Sphere went. But on a moral plane, some might feel Rich should have avoided the effort.

Still, Rich isn’t the only one talking of the efficacy of using the Nazis as a benchmark for contemporary criticism. At the website, a Jewish-themed site, Rafael Medoff also ruminated on just when it is OK to break out the Hitler comparisons when discussing modern events.

Medoff came to the conclusion that usually it’s best to steer clear of throwing around comparisons to Nazis, but that “some things really do warrant” such comparisons.

Medoff then notes that two others recently used the method to criticize bad actors, one being Philippine president Benigno Aquino and another being Peter Beinart in assessing Aquino’s statements. And those weren’t criticisms that were too far off the mark.

“Admittedly, most Hitler analogies are false and irresponsible,” Medoff concludes. But he goes on to remind readers that, “it’s helpful to remember that there really are some regimes whose policies bear at least a faint resemblance to those of the Nazis, and that there really are important lessons to learn from the 1940s so that the mistakes of that era will not be repeated.”