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Russia Scores Low in Olympic Competition for International Respect

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Bad news about Sochi seems to be good news for many Western journalists. That was evident in the coverage leading up to and including the opening ceremonies. The preponderance of stories characterized Sochi and the country and its leader in quite repulsive ways.

News topics have included twin toilets in a single stall, yellow tap water, and surveillance cameras focused on the showers in guests' hotel rooms. Any one of these would be enough to offend the sensibilities of most Westerners intending to attend the Games.

Those stories lead readers and viewers to believe the situations they depict represent the norm that visitors can expect. But journalists didn't seem to have done the leg work to ascertain whether that was really the case. The result was more of a smear job than true journalism. It's making President Vladimir Putin's idea that the Olympic spotlight would up Russia's image seem dubious.

The Washington Post ran a February 2 editorial titled, " Putin is losing the Sochi Olympic game." And in terms of media coverage, he indeed was. The New York Daily News carried a reader comment that "P utin has turned this Olympics into an international disgrace." The Washington Post even placed a song on its website titled "Sochi Sucks."

All this negative coverage seemed to reach a crescendo on the eve of the Games' official opening. In addition to broadcasting negative stories, newscasters were cracking jokes about Sochi, Putin, and Russia during their newscasts. TV comedians later that night got into the act, too. Jimmy Fallon observed that the Olympic torch had gone on a four month relay around the world. Then he cracked, "You know things are bad when even the torch is putting off going to Russia."

NBC, the television network authorized by the International Olympic Committee to broadcast the Olympics in the U.S., laced its commentaries about the opening ceremonies with denigrating characterizations of Russia. I thought the Olympics were supposed to be free of politics. Perhaps IOC should cancel NBC's contract immediately before the network further defiles the Olympic spirit.

For the sake of athletes and attendees here's hoping that Sochi's physical defenses will continue to be better than the protection of its image in the media has received. Opportunistic media attacks are not new for Russia under Putin. But at Sochi, the Kremlin has left itself wide open to Russia getting robbed of its chances for a better international reputation.

If a bank left its front door wide open and the vault unlocked it would get robbed all the time, too. That's why banks take precautions to protect themselves from robbers.

There exist effective professional techniques for thwarting reputation robbers. Knowledgeable experts warned the Kremlin about the impending Sochi PR disaster. But the leaders didn't take heed.

Meanwhile many journalists and commentators have gone on record with their dire innuendoes and forecasts for Sochi. Following the closing ceremony on February 23, we'll be able to sit as judges to decide what score team media has racked up.


William Dunkerley is a media business analyst and consultant based in New Britain, CT. He works extensively with media organizations in Russia and other post-communist countries, and has advised government leaders on strategies for building press (more...)
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