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New Yorker’s Remnick: NBC’s political translator

February 10, 2014

His experiment in television with NBC over for now, David Remnick leaves Sochi on Tuesday to resume his day job as editor of The New Yorker magazine.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire” participated in some studio discussions with host Bob Costas about some of the political issues surrounding the Olympics, including the threat of terrorism and Russia’s law barring gay “propaganda.”

Most effectively, he joined “Today” show hosts Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira to provide historical context about the messages the host country was trying to convey Friday during the opening ceremony.

“I know there was focus to some degree on the one (Olympic) ring that didn’t open,” he said in an interview. “Thematically, from what I understand, what Russia and (President Vladimir) Putin wanted out of this was to show a developing, modern country capable of putting on as good a show as Sydney or England or the rest. Politics aside, that’s another set of issues, I think they did.”

It was clear, too, the Russians wanted to “bobsled past the events that are very dark,” Remnick said. So while the presentation depicted industrialization that took place in the early Soviet era, Remnick was able to talk about the heavy price many Russians paid.

“The debate over history, the question of what is usable in the past and what is not and what is being skipped over — without beating the viewer over the head about it — was, I thought, important to point out,” he said. “I hope not to have been heavy-handed.”

Remnick was the Moscow bureau chief at The Washington Post between 1988 and 1991 and the assignment hasn’t left him. He’s returned to Russia several times for New Yorker pieces, and is reporting during his current trip.

He said he enjoyed working with NBC, but doesn’t expect it to be a regular gig. The next summer Olympics is in Brazil, not one of his areas of expertise.

Jim Bell, executive producer of NBC’s Olympics coverage, said he was thrilled by Remnick’s contributions.

“We hired David because this is a complex part of the world and there’s a lot of history to understand,” Bell said. “He made us smarter and made the audience smarter.”

It’s a complex area for NBC to navigate, too. The network received some online criticism for a piece about Russia narrated by actor Peter Dinklage that was aired before the opening ceremony. In the piece, Dinklage referred to Russia’s communist revolution as “one of modern history’s pivotal experiments.”

The decision not to make a value judgment on the United States’ Cold War enemy struck some viewers, including Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, as wrong. Rubio tweeted the introduction seemed to be written by Putin. “Pivotal experiment?” he tweeted. “Really, no, it was an evil empire that murdered and oppressed.”

Remnick said he did not participate in the piece and had no comment about the criticism.


David Bauder can be reached at dbauder@ap.org or on Twitter@dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder.

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