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2012 Olympics won't pave our streets gold

If you see some people walking around the area today with clipboards, asking questions and taking notes, do all of us a favor - stop them and tell them please, please take their Olympic orgy elsewhere. A group from the U.S. Olympic Committee is visiting the area to review the bid the Washington-Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalition made for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. During this process, I'm sure, you'll hear and read stories about how much money the Games will bring to the area. You'll hear claims about the economic boon it will be for everyone. Sure, just look at Atlanta. The streets there have been paved with gold ever since it hosted the 1996 Olympics. Visitors from all over the world have been flocking to the city ever since they read about what a great place it was. Right. The Georgia Dome recently abandoned plans to sell naming rights for that facility because it couldn't get anyone to come up with the money it was looking for. I guess that Olympic gold mine must have finally run dry. Atlanta was a disaster, in every way imaginable - literally, if you take into account the bombing at Centennial Park. (Do we want to paint a bull's-eye on our backs here? Aren't there enough metal detectors in this town already?). Every day thousands of reporters from around the world filed stories about what a horrible place Atlanta was and how nothing worked. They say you can't buy that kind of publicity. Atlanta did. Any of you who answered the 2012 Coalition survey that you would welcome the Olympics in this region need to do yourselves a favor and call anyone in Atlanta. Pick a name out of the phone book. Ask them if they are better off for having hosted the Games. That is the poll that would tell the truth, not a contrived survey to fit the needs of the suits that want their names attached to an Olympic Games. Sydney was considered a glorious success and yet taxpayers there lost $110 million hosting the Games. Now, that may be about $2.75 in U.S. dollars, but in Australia, $110 million could make a difference in a lot of lives. There are some small businessmen in Sydney who would love to have a small piece of that $110 million. Some of them lost those businesses, as they bought into the hype about streets paved with gold - Olympic charlatans use that pitch to the residents of every city in which this farce takes place. Those businessmen expanded their businesses in anticipation of an economic windfall; that windfall was a lot of hot air. More people left Sydney during the Olympics than came there. If you haven't read this point of view in the regional media, there may be a reason for it - they are part of the Olympic boondoggle band playing the same tune. In the June 4 edition of the Baltimore Sun, there was an editorial trying to downplay the dropping of Baltimore from the region's Olympic bid. The bid will have Washington's name only, as International Olympic Committee rules require that only one city be listed on a bid. The Sun took it upon itself to determine that Baltimoreans don't mind playing second fiddle to Washington. "Baltimoreans are realists. So they surely understand why the city's name is no longer attached to the region's 2012 Olympic bid. . . . the Baltimore Olympic Games rolls off the tongue, but that's not to be. So the bid's title: Washington D.C. 2012. Let's face it, the capital has the prestige we need to pull off an international coup." That's a pretty big assumption for a city that proudly wears its inferiority complex to Washington on its sleeve - particularly when the state of Maryland is providing the bulk of the facilities for the bid, and is expected to cover 53 percent of any losses more than $175 million. That's the kind of legislation that inspires confidence in the economic benefits of the Games to the region. But it's nothing compared to the assumption they take when it comes to rooting for Beijing to get the 2008 Games. Oh, yes, that's another wonderful component of our Olympic bid. We have to root for Beijing, and therefore root against Toronto, China's main rival, if we have any chance of getting the Games here. "It's really difficult to imagine U.S. games before 2020 if Toronto wins," Dan Knise, executive director of the 2012 coalition, told The Washington Times. "It's a great city, but we're obviously pulling for Beijing." The Sun editorial supports that notion. "U.S. cities bidding for the 2012 games collectively will be rooting against Toronto - although humanitarian reasons make Beijing suspect - in the 2008 competition." The editorial states: "There's almost no chance that the IOC will hold back-to-back Olympics in North American cities." The editorial goes on to say that Paris, which is also in the running for the 2008 Games, would also preserve Washington's bid for 2012. However, speculation has been that it is a two-city race between Beijing and Toronto and Paris is a distant third. To root against Toronto, you pretty much have to pull for Beijing. So the Sun thinks Beijing is "suspect" because of humanitarian reasons. What a bold stand for a newspaper. It's almost as courageous as a newspaper in China that recently had two editors removed from their jobs by the Communist Party because they wrote stories that put socialism in a less-than-favorable light. Suspect? Congress' International Relations Committee passed a resolution in March that urged the IOC to bar Beijing from bidding for the Olympics unless China ratified an international treaty on human rights and released all political prisoners. And last month, an international reporters organization that defends freedom of the press - called Reporters Sans Frontiers - said holding the 2008 Games in Beijing would be as "monstrous" as the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. And yet even more "suspect" are the ethical questions raised about the Sun supporting the notion of bringing the Games here, and never mentioning the fact that their publisher, Michael Waller, is a board member of the Washington-Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalition. It's called the appearance of a conflict of interest. If it were a government official using his job to promote an organization which he is part of, they would fry him in the paper. The Sun doesn't even mention in the editorial that its publisher is a coalition board member. The Washington Post is also involved in the Olympic bid, though its role is less of a commitment - it's listed as a corporate supporter. This is not an unusual situation. In the seven other American communities bidding for the 2012 Games, news organizations have joined their local efforts to attract the Games. But it doesn't make it right. What it does for readers is make "suspect" every report and column that appears in those papers about the local Olympic bid, like when you read reports that the economic benefit of the 2012 Games is projected to be more than $5 billion, according to a May 25 Sun story. It particularly makes editorials, which speak for the entire institution of the newspaper, "suspect." Waller was out of town and could not be reached for comment. However, Jacqueline Thomas, editor of the Sun's editorial page, said she was unaware of her publisher's role on the coalition and said it should have been included in the editorial. "I didn't know about this," she said. "Anytime the publisher is connected to something we are writing about, we point it out. But I didn't know about this. I was on vacation at the time, and I'm sure the person who wrote it wasn't aware of it, either." This isn't exactly the American Heart Association either. The 2012 coalition may be be listed as a non-profit organization, but I can assure that the Sun and every other newspaper in the area - including The Washington Times, which has no role in the 2012 Coalition - would profit from the Olympic Games. The readers are a different story. Aly Colon, a member of the journalism ethics faculty of the Poynter Institute, said these kind of roles for newspapers put them in difficult positions. "Those kind of relationships always raise questions, especially for those opposed to the issue, as to the fairness and completeness of how the story will be told," he said. "Newspapers and news organizations have a civic responsibility within a community as well. They need to recognize what they think is an appropriate responsibility and then be in a position to offer explanations and disclosures about their corporate and civic role in a community." Want more "suspect?" The board meetings of the 2012 Coalition are closed to the public. This coalition is one of those quasi-government inventions that wants government support and government money, but doesn't want to conduct its business by the laws of open government. That's a policy that no newspaper should ever endorse and yet the Sun does because of its publisher's role on the board. "Closed meetings present more problems," Colon said. "For an organization to do that, it puts you in an uncomfortable position. It's always better when a news organization can walk their talk." What it comes down to is everything is "suspect" about this bid to bring the Games here, including the documentation about the costs involved. They didn't list the selling of souls.

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