Friday, February 17, 2006

That ain't right, yo

Chevy Rahlves at the Turin OlympicsI don't know if you saw this photo on the back of the Washington Post but this dog could go farther in the Turin Olympics than a veteran journalist with 25 years of experience.

This is Chevy Rahlves, who belongs to U.S. Skier Daron Rahlves, and Chevy, you will notice, has a credential with his picture on it. This dog could get into places in Turin that my colleagues could not because like it or not, the Olympics is a private party.

This dog - a Siberian Huskie, which I guess is appropriate for the Winter Olympics - has the kind of credential around his neck that allows him into the athlete's area of the Winter Games. He stays with his master, U.S. Alpine skier Daron Rahlves, in a customized bus that the Red Bull energy drink people supplied to Rahlves to travel around Europe during the World Cup season.

Chevy is handsome as dogs go, but the thing is he can go places where a U.S. government reporter could not because the agency I work for did not pay thousands of dollars to the IOC to get the rights. That's where this all comes down to - who has the Benjamins and who gets left out in the cold.

See, the Olympics are not a news event - they are a privately-funded international sporting event that you have to pay to have the rights to cover. And the kind of credential you get is based on how much you pay. This dog has one that gets him into the athletes' team hotel and offices, where reporters like me cannot go without an escort.

Four years ago in Salt Lake City, my editor as well as the guys from National Public Radio, Jeremy Schapp from ESPN, and other non-rights holders had to go hat-in-hand to try to get any interviews with athletes at the 2002 games. We were not allowed to go to the official event press conferences at the venues (even though some times we did) because our credentials had a big ENR - "electronic, non-rights holding" - mark on them. We could get into the main press center, and into the venues, but as far as recording anything, forget it. You no pay, you no play.

NPR's Howard Berkes had his tape confiscated by what we affectionately called "the Rights Nazis" when he was standing there interviewing Mitt Romney (now governor of Massachusetts and the man who wants to be the first Mormon President of the United States) at the ski jumping venue. The Nazi said "stop, give me your tape!" Howard - who lives in Salt Lake - surrendered the tape, Mitt smiled, patted Howard on the back, said "see you later!" and walked off.

I can understand that. NBC paid King Tut's ransom for the rights, the host broadcaster wants to make sure they can deliver the product to their advertisers - who pay the bills for this shindig - and they don't want any pirates. Which is what you are if you steal from them.

But one day I was walking through the main press center at the Civic Center there in good old Salt Lake, and what did I see - a dog with a right's holding credential! This one happened to be a German shepherd that belonged to a Mexican Talk show host.

But the dog - like Chevy - could go places where I could not. I was reporting for the world, for people who could not be there. The dog was window dressing. But that's the politics baby.

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