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Today anchor Savannah Guthrie is expecting her second child, and that means she’ll be skipping the Summer Olympics in Rio, where the mosquito-borne Zika virus has been blamed for severe birth defects. The move makes Guthrie, 44, the most high-profile TV personality to opt out of the Games.
Guthrie made the announcement about her pregnancy Tuesday morning on Today, surrounded by her colleagues. “I’m not going to be able to go to Rio, so you’ll have to go to beach volleyball without me,” she said, adding, “I’m looking forward to the campaign season.”
NBCUniversal has said that employees concerned about traveling to Rio are not required to go. And so far, a handful of employees have declined. Noah Oppenheim, NBC News senior vp and executive in charge of Today, tells The Hollywood Reporter that Zika has “not been a source of very much angst” at the news division. “We’ve created a transparent culture here where people feel very comfortable raising a hand and saying, ‘You know what? I’d rather not make this trip.’”
The same policy was in place in 2014 for the network’s coverage of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where terrorism and security concerns caused some employees to stay away.
Rio would have been the third Olympics for Guthrie, whose baby is due in December. In April, NBC Sports announced that she would join Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira to host NBC’s coverage of the Opening Ceremonies on Aug. 5.
NBCUniversal typically dispatches close to 3,000 employees to the Olympics venue, and the Games have given NBC News, particularly the Today show, which broadcasts from the Olympic locale, an enormous platform and significant ratings lift. This year, that ratings shot in the arm could be even more critical, as Today is ahead of ABC’s Good Morning America in the 25-54 demographic for the season. (The Games will also mark the debut of Billy Bush during Today’s 9 a.m. hour.)
Oppenheim acknowledged the significance of the Olympics: “It’s a big deal for us and for the audience.” But he also noted that there are advantages to having Guthrie in place during “the height of a very unpredictable election cycle.” Before joining Today, Guthrie was NBC News’ White House correspondent. She has remained at the forefront of the network’s political coverage and will be on location at this summer’s political conventions.
Some U.S. athletes, including soccer star Hope Solo, have expressed concern about traveling to Rio. And American cyclist Tejay van Garderen, whose wife is pregnant, has said he will not participate in the Games. But so far, there have been few athlete defections.
The World Health Organization last January declared Zika a global health emergency. The pathogen is linked to microcephaly, which causes small heads and cognitive impairment in newborn babies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in May that close to 300 pregnant women in the U.S. have tested positive for Zika, though they contracted the virus elsewhere. The Obama administration has asked Congress to approve $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight Zika, but the bill stalled before the Memorial Day recess.
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