RIO DE JANEIRO – I thought the prevailing theme of these Olympics would be confirmation bias, and not surprisingly, I have been proven correct.
If you thought the Games would be marred by crime and incompetence, then that is what you have seen. If you expected the Olympics to be great anyway, then in your mind, they have been.
And if you laid $100 on the prop bet “American athlete gets robbed at gunpoint,” you are ready to collect your winnings. But can you?
American Ryan Lochte says he and three other swimmers were robbed at gunpoint Sunday morning. If you believe that every corner in Rio is a crime scene waiting to happen, then the incident has become the story that sums up the Olympics. Rio really is too dangerous to play host.
Quickly, though Lochte’s story may be unraveling. It was strange enough that Lochte’s mother said it happened, then Lochte denied it, and then Lochte admitted it was true. (In the interim, the IOC quickly and insisted the story was false, which seemed utterly ridiculous to me.)
According to various reports, police could not find the swimmers’ taxi driver. Or the perpetrators. The swimmers’ accounts did not line up. Their timelines don’t quite match. They seemed happy when they returned to the village, when logically they should have been shaken up.
And if you are a cop in Rio and believe that snarky journalists and doomsayers have been distorting the state of your city… well, this just confirms it, right?
This explains why Brazilian authorities tried to collect the passports of Lochte and American swimmer James Feigen Wednesday, according to the U.S.O.C. (Lochte has left the country; it was unclear if Feigen is still here.) It explains why they reportedly may file a claim against the Americans for false reporting of a crime.
If the Americans made the whole thing up, it’s not just a tall tale. It’s tall enough to cast a shadow over the whole country. You can understand why Brazilians would be angry.
We may never know the whole story. I don’t pretend to know. There is just enough information out there for people to believe what they want to believe.
It is quite possible, even likely, that the swimmers are telling the truth, but not the whole truth.
Here is what Lochte told the Today Show’s Billy Bush:
“We got pulled over in our … taxi. And … these guys came out with a badge, a police badge. No lights, no nothing. Just a police badge. They pulled us over. They pulled out their guns. They told the other swimmers to get down on the ground. They got down on the ground.”
And what happened?
“The guy pulled out his gun. He cocked it. He put it to my forehead. He said get down. I put my hands up, like ‘Whatever.’ He took my money, he took my wallet. He left my cell phone, he left my credential.”
Generally, people do not make up stories about getting robbed at gunpoint, then tell their mother, then deny it happened, then tell the story in detail on national TV. (Then again, most people do not make up stories about being invited to appear on The Bachelor, and Lochte has been accused of that, too.)
Once in a while, people do concoct stories like this and go public. But they usually do it for one of two reasons: They think they can get something out of it, or they want to get out of something. Neither one appears to apply to Lochte.
What would he get out of lying? Not money. He didn’t even name anybody he could sue.
I guess there could be some off-the-wall explanation, like “Lochte is so jealous of Michael Phelps that he concocted a story about getting robbed at gunpoint to gain attention, floated it to his mom first, then denied it because he felt weird about it, then said it was true because he was boxed in, and the other swimmers went along with him because he has this weird hold on their minds”… but, uh, yeah: I don’t buy that one, either.
It’s hard to imagine these swimmers just made the whole thing up. But it is very easy to imagine they fudged some details. There are a lot of reasons they might do this, and they are not all sinister. They could have been too drunk to remember it clearly. They might not remember exactly where they were. They could be embarrassed by some part of the story. They could have been in a place where they should not have been, or with people they should not have been with.
On the Today Show, Lochte definitely paused between “pulled over in our” and “taxi.” If you’re looking for holes in the story, maybe you find one there.
Maybe there was no taxi. Maybe there was no robbery. Maybe it happened exactly like Lochte said. Regardless, Brazilians are right about this: one incident should not define a city, a country, or an Olympics.