Living so close to Hollywood, Los Angelenos should know more than anyone that perception is often more important than reality. But that lesson was lost on our city as it presented its bid for the 2016 Olympics to the United States Olympic Committee in Washington, D.C., this weekend – and lost were the City of Angels’ hopes to host its third Olympic Games.
Whereas the city of Chicago’s collective civic pride shone through the presence of many major media outlets – from the local dailies to several television stations – Los Angeles television and print media as a whole barely registered a blip at the proceedings, giving Committee members the impression that the City of Angels could frankly care less about the Olympics coming to town.
The first question posed to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa when he arrived in Washington to pitch to USOC set the tone for the whole weekend. The reporters asked our Mayor whether the lack of local media presence in Washington reflected a lack of enthusiasm for the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. And as such, the tone was set for the entire weekend.
Even those who did not attend journalism schools probably know that one of the trade’s cardinal rules is that the reporter should not become part of the story. But when there are no local television cameras present and the local paper of record – the Los Angeles Times – is absent at a critical event like the selection of the United States’ bid city for the Olympic Games, it became a story.
In the months leading up to the USOC selection, Los Angeles’ “local” paper covered the process in passing as part of its Sports coverage – but placed little emphasis on what a winning bid might mean to the city in terms that might have, for instance, motivated elected officials to finish the Purple Line subway-to-the-sea project or ramping up the fight against gangs in areas near future Olympic venues.
Other media outlets were just as neglectful of the economic impacts that having the Olympics come to L.A. might have had on the city. Granted, it is difficult to get Los Angeles television stations to care about much more than the latest car chase or brush fire. In a town where many of our residents have moved here in the last nine years, it can be tough to get people thinking about something that may or may not happen in 2016. Heck, by then, many Los Angeles residents will be living in Chicago!
In fact, the Times ran an opinion editorial from it’s sister-paper, the Chicago Tribune, long before the Los Angeles paper editorialzed in favor of the city’s Olympic bid on the day of the selection – while at the same time endorsing Sanjaya to win on American Idol.
By their absence at the Washington Hilton Embassy Row, where the USOC deliberations took place, Los Angeles’ local media send Committee members a clear message: we don’t care. If Committee members got the feeling that media executives thought that the 2016 Olympics don’t get television ratings or sell newspapers in Los Angeles in mid-April 2007, they wouldn’t be to blame.
While Los Angeles’ media was absent at the USOC selection proceedings, each of Chicago’s major dailies were represented in Washington, along with five television stations. The message was clear – Chicago and Chicagoans want the Olympics. Angelenos did not.
Los Angeles gave the United States Olympic Committee the far-superior bid for the 2016 games. While Chicago’s bid was build on speculation and potential, Los Angeles presented facilities that could host a world-class international event like the Olympics tomorrow, if need be. Only one sporting venue needed to be built for Los Angeles to host the 2016 Games, meaning that the construction delays and cost over-runs which have plagues the Olympic movement in recent decades would be avoided entirely.
Olympic observers noted that the final presentations often tip the scales when it comes to the site selection process. In the Summer of 2005, Paris’ 2012 bid lost out to London on the final ballot – in part because of what happened during their final presentations.
Chicago won the United States’ 2016 Olympic bid not because it had a superior proposal for hosting the Olympic Games. Chicago won the nomination because it gave the perception that the city – not just its elected officials and sporting elites – wanted it. Because the local media cared enough just to show up, whereas Los Angeles’ did not, the United States Olympic Committee got the message that one city cared while the other didn’t. Because even the USOC likes to be paid attention to, Los Angeles’ media’s absence made their choice easy.