You heard it all weekend: “Four American swimmers trashed a Rio bathroom in a drunken rage and then lied to investigators about an armed robbery to cover-up their story.”
It’s become conventional wisdom from network anchors trying to paint a rosy picture on a troubled Olympics to journalists who embrace the narrative of “ugly Americans” taking advantage of the downtrodden, third world Brazilians.
There’s only one problem with this narrative: It appears it’s completely false.
USA Today has done a thorough and extensive investigation of the security videos from the gas station in question and they’ve done something Matt Lauer and Bob Costas sure haven’t done. They interviewed the actual witnesses who were there the night of the incident. Their report today paints a very different picture of the media narrative Americans have been fed since Friday morning:
But a narrative of the night’s events – constructed by USA TODAY Sports from witness statements, official investigations, surveillance videos and media reports – supports Lochte’s later account in which he said he thought the swimmers were being robbed when they were approached at a gas station by armed men who flashed badges, pointed guns at them and demanded money.
Where I come from (Detroit) when someone points a weapon at you and will not let you leave until you give them money, it’s called “armed robbery.” Yes, even in Detroit. Now maybe the standard for “armed robbery” is different in Brazil. You know, like the standard for “handling classified materials in a negligent way” has a shifting standard depending on whether you’re running for president and whether the Attorney General is a member of your political party.
But, armed robbery should be one of those crimes that transcends language and culture.
USA Today’s analysis picks up on some important factors that need to be pointed out:
An extensive review of surveillance footage by a USA TODAY Sports videographer who also visited the gas station supports swimmer Gunnar Bentz’s claim that he did not see anyone vandalize the restroom, an allegation that in particular heightened media portrayals of the four as obnoxious Americans behaving recklessly in a foreign country. Meanwhile, Rio authorities have declined to identify the guards or offer any details beyond confirming they are members of law enforcement who were working a private security detail.
Marinate in that for a moment, will you?
A videographer who visited the actual bathroom in question and analyzed all of the video footage says there is no evidence (on video or in person) that supports the claim that the bathroom was vandalized by the swimmers. One of the swimmers (Bentz) has gone on record saying he didn’t see any of the swimmers vandalize the bathroom. The security guards who are also law enforcement have not been brought forward to be interviewed by reporters. In fact, we’ve never even seen their faces.
We’ve seen these swimmers’ faces plastered on our TVs and across the Internet for a week now and the thugs who held them at gunpoint and robbed them remain anonymous. We are told to just trust the word of the Rio Police Department on this one. After all, is there a more just and honest entity on the planet earth than a Brazilian police force and a local, Brazilian judge trying to save face in light of an embarrassing armed robbery during the Olympic games? I mean, why would they lie?
And about that bathroom. Here is the door to the most famous lavatory in Brazil: (Photos via USA Today)
And here is what it looks like once you open that beautiful “door”:
Looks to me like the swimmers could have set this God-forsaken, glorified port-a-potty on fire and still barely hit $50 in damage.
USA Today spoke with an eyewitness. Fernando Deluz was at the scene and intervened in the situation once the gun was drawn. “It was also so fast, and what I wanted was to resolve the situation,” Deluz told the paper. “If it hadn’t been for wanting to resolve that, if I hadn’t involved myself, I thought – the police chief told me, ‘Man, if you hadn’t gone there in that moment, a tragedy could have occurred.’ ”
Based on the behavior of the stalwart Rio PD one wonders if the “tragedy” the chief was referring to was the murder of the four swimmers or a bad PR moment for the beloved Rio Games.
In a statement released Friday, Bentz confirmed police accounts that indicated Lochte damaged a sign during the incident and got into a “heated exchange” with the guards. But Bentz, who said authorities viewed him as a witness and never a suspect in the case, offered a narrative that closely matches Lochte’s revised account that he gave to Lauer three days after the incident. Bentz said his recollection was that money was demanded from the Americans by armed men in order for the swimmers to be allowed to leave.
While bystander Deluz and the police said the amount paid was for property vandalized, it is unclear whether the swimmers understood the situation.
Bentz, 20, is emphatic that his account is accurate: “I never made a false statement to anyone at any time,” he said.
But the money the armed security guards demanded was payment for damage caused by the drunk, ugly Americans trashing the beautiful bathroom facilities, right? I mean, that’s what Carol Costello told me as she pursed her lips and looked disappointingly at all Americans for our atrocious, nationalistic, Xenophobic support of our Olympic team, right?
Apparently, there was absolutely no damage to the bathroom.
Read that sentence again.
Apparently, there was absolutely no damage to the bathroom.
According to the witness at the time, the accounts of the swimmers and first-hand investigations by journalists, the bathrooms were as the swimmers found them (which is to say, disgusting) but, not vandalized:
At a news conference Thursday, Rio police chief Fernando Veloso characterized the athletes’ actions at the gas station as vandalism. He said they also had broken a soap dispenser and mirror inside the restroom. Reports quickly grew that the Americans had trashed the restroom.
A USA TODAY Sports videographer who visited the bathroom Thursday found no damage to soap dispensers and mirrors and said none of those items appeared to be new. Some media accounts suggested the men had broken down a door, which USA TODAY Sports also did not observe.
Bentz said in his statement that he believes there are surveillance videos shot from different angles that have not been released. He also said he did not see anyone damage the bathroom or even enter it.
A video made by NBC journalist Keir Simmons corroborates the fact that the bathroom was not vandalized. Here is his report from Friday morning.
Have we seen all of the security videos of the incident? If not, why not? In fact, according to the videos that have been released, including a camera trained on the bathroom doors, there is no evidence that the swimmers even went near the bathrooms.
Eyewitness Deluz tells USA Today that as he brokered an agreement between the armed
robbers security guards — you know, the ones who held these four Americans at gunpoint while shouting Portugese at them until they got their cash — the only damage ever mentioned by the criminal thugs (the robbers, not the swimmers) was a framed, canvas sign that Lochte apparently knocked down off the wall.
So how did we get the idea that these drunk, ugly Americans broke the door and vandalized the bathroom? From the Rio PD and the security guards. You know, the guys who would be armed robbery suspects.
Olympic swimmer Gunnar Bentz released a written statement about the incident:
“After attending an event with several swimmers from different nations, I left in a taxicab along with U.S. swimmers Jack Conger, Jimmy Feigen and Ryan Lochte around 6 a.m. On the way back to the Olympic Village, we pulled into a convenience store to use the restroom. There was no restroom inside, so we foolishly relieved ourselves on the backside of the building behind some bushes. There was a locked door out back and I did not witness anyone breaking it open. I am unsure why, but while we were in that area, Ryan pulled to the ground a framed metal advertisement that was loosely anchored to the brick wall. I then suggested to everyone that we needed to leave the area and we returned to the taxi.
“Two men, whom I believe to have been security guards, then instructed us to exit the vehicle. No guns were drawn during this exchange, but we did see a gun tucked into one of the guard’s waistband. As Jimmy and Jack were walking away from the vehicle, the first security guard held up a badge to me and drew his handgun. I yelled to them to come back toward us and they complied. Then the second guard drew his weapon and both guards pointed their guns at us and yelled at us to sit on a nearby sidewalk.
“Again, I cannot speak to his actions, but Ryan stood up and began to yell at the guards. After Jack and I both tugged at him in an attempt to get him to sit back down, Ryan and the security guards had a heated verbal exchange, but no physical contact was made.”
That seems to square nicely with Mr. Deluz’ account as well.
Swimmer Jack Conger also released a statement:
Early Sunday morning I was with USA swimming teammates celebrating at the French House. Four of us took a taxi back to the Olympic Village, and on the way we pulled into a gas station to use the restroom, but ultimately relieved ourselves outside, for which I apologize. Ryan Lochte removed a poster from a nearby wall, which apparently alerted the gas station employees, leading to our being confronted by two armed security men. Although I cooperated with their requests while there was a heated exchange among others, at one point a weapon was pointed at me. Eventually, a man appeared who was able to translate for us, helping to defuse the situation. We paid some money to compensate them for the torn poster, and returned to the Village in a different taxi.
See a pattern here? Do you really believe someone vandalized the bathroom?
So how did it become conventional wisdom that the American swimmers were at fault and they shamed our nation by somehow enticing these Rio thugs to hold them up at gunpoint because they trashed a bathroom?
Because the sophisticated elite in our country love apologizing for and assuming the worst about Americans abroad.
The elite media and sophisticated observers in America are tut-tutting themselves to death over the awful behavior of our Olympic swimmers without actually turning a critical eye toward the “facts” as they had been reported.
Just look at this video of NBC’s Al Roker grandstanding about this incident while basking in the sun at Copacabana Beach in Rio:
Al seems really worked up over Lochte’s “lies,” doesn’t he? Has Al spent one second on the Today Show listing out all the people Hillary Clinton lied to about her email scam?
As for me, I will take the word of one of our Olympians (yes, even the flakiest of them all, Ryan Lochte) over an inherently corrupt, 3rd world Banana Republic trying to make their disorganized and crime-ridden sports festival look like the poster-child for American bad behavior.