NBC Gabby/Gymnastic Chimp Gaffe Ignites Firestorm of Criticism

LONDON – Pairing network applause for Black gymnast Gabby Douglas with a grinning monkey on gymnastic rings to promote a new show was not an intentional slap at the pixie-like Virginia Beach, Va.-born athlete’s historic Olympic Games performance, NBC said Aug. 3.

“The spot promoting ‘Animal Practice,’ which has run three times previously, is one in a series with an Olympic theme which have been scheduled for maximum exposure. Certainly no offense was intended,” NBC Universal spokeswoman Liz Fischer said in a statement.

The network statement followed widespread media criticism and viewer complaints that an Aug. 2 ad featuring a toothy-grinning monkey promoting a new situation comedy immediately followed NBC’s Bob Costas lengthy commentary applauding Douglas, the first Black gymnast in history to win an individual gold medal.

The gaffe triggered a firestorm of media criticism Aug. 3. “NBC has become the centre of a race storm,” the Daily Mail said. The London paper slammed the network for its timing, too. “Costas said: ‘There are some African American girls out there who tonight are saying to themselves: “Hey, I’d like to try that too.” More from London in a moment.’” The screen then faded to the grinning monkey.

“With her beaming smile having just graced the screen, the network cut to a commercial. And what did they choose? A …smile-beaming black monkey performing a gymnastics routine,” said the Dallas Morning News’ SportsDayDFW.

A columnist for the paper, Tod Robberson, writing in the Dallas Morning News, called it “supremely thoughtless and undoubtedly insulting to lots of viewers.”

“Immediately after the ad was shown, social networking circles, particularly Twitter, blew up,” according to examiner.com, noting that the “hashtag #NBCFail has become pretty popular over the past week.”

The clumsy pairing of images caps the criticism so far of the network’s performance of the Olympic Game as NBC has drawn scores of complaints about releasing results before airing events, according to news reports.
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