August 22, 2008

The Media's Olympics

What Was Covered and What Wasn't

Negative Storylines

Not all of the coverage of the Olympics was positive once the Games began. The story of the U.S. men’s volleyball coach whose in-laws were stabbed the day following the opening ceremonies made up 3% of the Olympics newshole in the first week.

And even as sports coverage began, the ample coverage of the opening ceremonies from the previous week (18%) spilled over into the first week after it was revealed the Chinese girl who sang the Chinese “Ode to the Motherland” had actually lip-synched the song because she was deemed “not cute enough” to participate in the ceremonies herself. As a result, the opening ceremonies still received 5% of the Olympics coverage during the first week of the athletic competition.

Stories that Haven’t Been Covered

The story of the dubbed singing voice was often portrayed as an illustration of official Chinese manipulation and control, a kind of proxy for stories about government authority that were apparently otherwise difficult for the media to do. On the August 12 edition of Fox News’ Fox Report with Shepard Smith, Trace Gallagher reported on the “trickery” employed by the Chinese during the opening ceremonies which included not only the lip-synching child, but also the faking of the firework footprints and Chinese officials’ employment of citizens as seat fillers. Of the little girl, Gallagher stated, “The Chinese decided she had a great voice, but not a great face.” Shepard Smith followed Gallagher’s comments with, “I can’t believe the Chinese called her, like, openly buck-toothed. This is a little girl we’re talking about.”

In subtler fashion, the front page of the New York Times suggested similar themes. “Under pressure from the highest levels of the ruling Communist Party to find the perfect face and voice, the ceremonies’ production team concluded that the best solution was to use two girls instead of one.”

Some storylines that have been significant in other recent Olympics have not received much coverage during these games. Stories about steroids, for instance, received less than 1% of the news coverage about the games studied during these two weeks studied. The business, sponsorship, and advertising elements of the games have also received less than 1% of the coverage. And protests about the games and questions of China’s human rights record have received slightly more than 1% of the news coverage focused on the Olympic Games.