NBC fails to disclose Olympic commentator Weir works for Russian govt.

NBC Sports recently hired former professional figure skater Johnny Weir to provide commentary on the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, without disclosing that Weir claims to be an agent of the very country he’s covering for NBC – Russia.

UPDATE: Weir’s agent is now claiming that his bio mentioning that he “works” with/for the Russian consulate in New York City is simply “a typo.”

Johnny Weir’s bio says he “works” with the Russian consulate in NYC

Journalist Andy Humm recently discovered Weir’s, and NBC’s, apparent conflict of interest while reviewing Weir’s bio (which has suddenly been removed post-publication of this story) at Premiere Speakers Bureau. Weir’s bio reads in part:

Due to his ability to understand global art and culture and his sporting expertise, Weir has recently begun working as a Goodwill Sports Ambassador to Japan and also works with the Russian Children’s Welfare Society and Russian Consulate in New York City.

Fortunately I took a screen capture of Weir’s bio last night before it went down the memory hole:

Johnny-Weir-bio

Here’s what you’ll find in place of Johnny Weir’s bio after we published this story:

Johnny-Weir-bio-removed

Weir is now denying the relationship with the Russian consulate detailed in his own bio:

johnny-weir-russian-consulate

In fact, your own bio.

Some have now suggested that Weir was referring to an event he was on the host committee for with the Russian Children’s Welfare Society, an event that was thrown with the Russian Consulate.  But that event happened in 2010. Weir’s bio specifically said, as of last night, that he “works” with both organizations. Being on the host committee of a single event in 2010 is not “works” – it’s worked, past tense.  And it’s not even “work,” it’s hosting an event.

If Weir’s defenders are now trying to claim that he misrepresented himself in his resume that he used to get get paid speaking engagements, well, I’m not sure that’s much of a defense.

Not to mention, if the bio is so benign, why was it suddenly deleted?

UPDATE: It’s back!  Things just got even stranger. Premiere has replaced Weir’s bio with one that continues to mention the children’s welfare group, but now doesn’t mention the Russian consulate at all.  But if he was on the host committee of an event with the children’s group and the consulate, and felt it fair to claim that he “works” with the children’s group and the consulate, then how can he now still mention the children’s group, but not the consulate at all, when they both were part of the same event?  Wouldn’t it be both or nothing?

weir-newest-bio

Weir has been outspoken in his criticism of gay activists targeting Russia and its Olympics

johnny weir

Weir appeared on Keith Olbermann’s show earlier this year dress in a Russian/soviet military uniform.

Weir has been outspoken in his criticism of international human rights activists targeting Russia for its recent crackdown on its gay and trans citizens.  But most of us had no idea that Weir was actually working with the Russian government to a degree that merited mentioning it in his resume, and in the present tense (“works” with, not “worked” with).

Just a little over one week ago, Weir called human rights activists, who are critical of Russia, “idiots.” (He later apologized for some of his comments.) At that time, Weir also criticized the wildly-successful boycott of Russian vodka that helped attract worldwide attention to Russia’s anti-gay abuses (via Andy Humm):

During [Weir’s] talk he spoke of “idiots like the ones outside tonight, dumping vodka in the street,” action he dismissed as useless.

“They say all these stupid things.”

Trans woman brutally beaten by Russian vigilantes, who filmed the attack and then posted it online.

Trans woman brutally beaten by Russian vigilantes, who filmed the attack and then posted it online.

Even more troubling, during that same talk, Weir minimized, and seemed to actually defend, Russia’s draconian new anti-gay “propaganda” law that essentially makes it illegal for anyone to be openly gay in the country, or for anyone straight to express a pro-gay sentiment. More from Humm:

Referring to the new anti-gay law in Russia, which forbids virtually all public mention of homosexuality as a threat to children, the athlete [Weir] flippantly characterized it as “no anal sex in front of libraries.”

Nancy Goldstein nails why Weir’s weird “anal sex” comment is doubly offensive:

It’s a flippant reference to the widely broadcast footage of the late Alexei Davydov being hauled off, as the first person arrested under the law, for standing in front of the Moscow Children’s Library with a sign that read, “Gay is normal.”

Gay protesters arrested in Russia.

Gay protesters arrested in Russia.

Weir was not only defending, and intentionally downplaying the impact and offensiveness of, Russia’s new anti-gay law, but he was also taking a swipe at a brave Russian gay activist who was jailed for simply having an opinion the state did not approve of.

Russia’s propaganda law is already being used to stifle dissent

In fact, contrary to Weir’s claim, the propaganda law has been used against more than just people who have anal sex in front of libraries.

Neither NBC nor Johnny Weir disclosed his work with the Russian consulate

Did NBC reveal Weir’s work with the Russian government when announcing that they’d hired him to provide commentary for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi? No. Here’s NBC’s press release. No mention of Weir’s work with the Russian government.

russia gay

15 year old gay Russian boy kidnapped, and tortured, by anti-gay vigilantes that the Russian government refused to arrest.

But surely when the NBC press release linked to Weir’s bio, people could have found a full disclosure of Weir’s ties to the Russian government there? Nope. Nothing in that particular bio about Weir’s work with the Russian consulate.

And while NBC and Weir could claim that the relationship was divulged in that other obscure bio that Humm just found, I’ve been unable to find anything beyond that one mention, and it’s a safe bet that a lot of NBC’s viewers are unaware of the relationship, as were most of us.

Keep in mind, it’s not like NBC is claiming that Weir’s ties to the Russian government have nothing to do with his job at NBC covering the Olympics.  On the contrary, NBC delved into the Russian anti-gay controversy in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth paragraph of their October 23, 2013 story announcing their hiring of Weir:

Weir has been opposed to calls for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics because he feels it would negate the efforts of athletes who have worked hard to reach the Games.

In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill banning the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” toward minors, which has made gay athletes and spectators worried about discrimination and possible arrest in Sochi.

“I’m a gay American. I’ve married into a Russian family. I’ve been a longtime supporter of Russia, the culture, the country, the language, everything about Russia,” Weir said on TODAY Wednesday. “While this law is a terrible thing that you can’t be gay publicly in Russia, I plan to be there in full support of our brothers and sisters there and not be afraid.

“If I get arrested, I get arrested; if not, great, but our presence is needed. For all the Olympians that worked so hard, a boycott is just the worst thing that you could do to all these young people.”

If I get arrested? Is Johnny Weir planning on having anal sex in front of a Russian library? Because, per Johnny Weir, that’s all this law bans.

Boy, a lot changes in a month.  Six weeks ago, Johnny Weir was at least willing to offer token criticism of Russia’s anti-gay law, and admit that the law could even get him thrown in jail for simply being an openly-gay man.

But only four weeks later, Johnny Weir suddenly loves Big Brother, and the law is a joke that only applies to “idiot” gays who want to fornicate in front of schoolchildren.

Has Johnny Weir registered with the DOJ as a foreign agent?

Speaking of Big Brother, I’m curious whether Weir registered with the Department of Justice as a foreign agent, something potentially required under US law if you are working for a foreign government in an attempt to influence US public opinion.

From the DOJ’s Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) Web page:

The purpose of FARA is to insure that the U.S. Government and the people of the United States are informed of the source of information (propaganda) and the identity of persons attempting to influence U.S. public opinion, policy, and laws.

Two aspects of the law are particularly interesting and relevant. Again, from DOJ:

  1. The Act requires every agent of a foreign principal, not otherwise exempt, to register with the Department of Justice and file forms outlining its agreements with, income from, and expenditures on behalf of the foreign principal. These forms are public records and must be supplemented every six months.
  2. The Act also requires that informational materials (formerly propaganda) be labeled with a conspicuous statement that the information is disseminated by the agents on behalf of the foreign principal. The agent must provide copies of such materials to the Attorney General.

Weir could try to argue that he’s exempt since, he might claim, his work is of a cultural nature, and not political – and the arts are one of the categories exempt from the law.  But Weir has been nothing if not political – vocally so, in his defense of Russia by not just opposing a boycott of the Sochi Olympics, but by downplaying the significance of the anti-gay propaganda law, and denigrating Russian gay activists and human rights advocates abroad.

Thus, the following questions arise:

  1. Has Johnny Weir received any form of compensation from the Russian government?  The fact that Weir included the Russian consulate in his bio suggests that some agreement transpired between the two, and is still in existence (Weir said “works” not “worked”).
  2. Has Weir had any discussions at all with Russian government officials, or their surrogates, about the public relations problems the Russian government is having with the gay propaganda law generally, and/or the Olympic games in particular?
  3. Did NBC even ask Weir about any of this before hiring him as one of their “Russia experts” covering the Olympics?
  4. Do any of NBC’s other on-air personalities work as an agent of a foreign government they’ll be covering?

“I’ve never had a bad experience in Russia”

I’d like to conclude with a bit more from Weir’s controversial talk two weeks ago (again via Humm).  It really puts everything into perspective:

Russian vigilante groups have organized around the country to kidnap young gay people and terrorize them, including this young South African who was held captive and had a watermelon shoved in his face.

Russian vigilante groups have organized around the country to kidnap young gay people and terrorize them, including this young South African who was held captive and had a watermelon shoved in his face.

“I’ve never had a bad experience in Russia,” [Weir] said, “not gotten called a fag or beat up,” something occurring systematically to many others since the law was passed, none known to have been an Olympic athlete.

“I only see the rosy, golden side. I choose to see Russia in an arrogant, selfish way. I didn’t know what to think about the new law.”

The Russian consulate couldn’t have said it better.


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Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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