Media Failures In Sochi: How The Real Russia Was Underreported During The Olympics




After a long day of working, I went home looking forward to the Olympic Closing Ceremony. Milkshake in hand, I plopped down on the couch and turned on NBC. I immediately wished I had not. On the television, there was a skating teddy bear with some old commentator in the background lecturing me about how the Russian government is not evil, just misunderstood. It was like taking a trip on Ozzy’s train.

However, this served to demonstrate the problem with this year’s Olympics. Sochi hosting the Olympics has allowed the Russian government to put on two faces, one in Sochi and one in Kiev. One is a notorious abuser of human rights, the other is a modernizer and peacemaker with cute teddy bears. Russia should not be viewed as a global leader until it makes significant progress on human rights.

These Olympics have made us look at Russia as a burgeoning worldwide leader, but only because the media has not given us all the facts. How can anyone forget how, in the opening ceremony, Bob Costas’ coverage for NBC portrayed Vladimir Putin as a peacemaker who brought peace to Syria? Despite the fact, that this so-called peace has allowed for Assad to miss numerous deadlines for handing over chemical weapons.

In addition, U.S. General Martin Dempsey stated in September 2013 if the U.S. would have attacked Syria, the Russian government would replace all lost military equipment, allowing Assad to continue on his killing rampage.  The Russian government continues to support a regime that is engaging in a war that according to Al Arabiya has killed 140,000 people, including 7,000 children. Rather than help broker a real solution in Syria, Russia helped the U.S. reach an agreement that was barely tolerable. Sure, it may eventually lead to the end of chemical weapons usage, but it did nothing to prevent Assad from killing his own people with conventional weapons. In addition, Syria has requested another 100 days to turn over chemical weapons. If Damascus is not going to turn over their chemical weapons, then what was the point of this deal?

In Ukraine, Putin and his government turned a blind eye to – borderline encouraged – Viktor Yanukovych to unleash havoc on Ukrainian citizens. Then, when he was overthrown, the Russian government decided to abandon its agreements and run away from its word, because, rather than recognize the will of the people overthrowing a dictator, the Russians would rather pretend like a bunch of armed thugs took over a nation.

When President Obama sent an American delegation to the Sochi Olympics with several openly gay members, he was condemned by IOC President Thomas Bach for attempting to “politicize the games.” Instead, the reality is the IOC politicized the games with the decision to allow a regime discriminatory to LBGT people to host the Olympics. The games have always been politicized. It is in the games’ very nature to be politicized. They are supposed to be a political stand for world peace, but Russia has shown an inability to make them into anything other than a dog and pony show for nationalistic pride.

The Olympics represent an attempt to show the world as it could be – a world where any discussion is open between any party, where swords are put down for competition. The games are supposed to help build a world dominated by fair and open competition in the Olympic spirit. However, during the Sochi Olympics, this did not occur. Troubling stories about Pussy Riot were not given airtime, yet a really creepy teddy bear was. Instead of seeing how Russia caused Kiev to burn, we saw a false new image of Russia in Sochi. All we saw was a manipulated advertisement and not the real Russia.

Now, we all understand the role of the United States is not to be the morality police of the world. However, the IOC has a significant interest to make sure the only political goal of the Olympics is peace and understanding, rather than covering up human rights abuses. The IOC needs to take action to prevent this from happening again.

There is action that can be taken. The IOC has been urged by a group of 30 human rights organizations to require all future hosts of the Olympic games to keep abuses of human rights out of their codes of laws. For every violation, the IOC would have the ability to penalize the host – as far as being able to relocate the games.  This is just a common sense way to prevent human rights abusers from using the Olympics as a way to express nationalist pride to cover abuse.

The American consumer also has a role in reforming the way we think about the Olympics. American citizens must demand accurate information about human rights abuse around the world, because a crime against one person’s freedom is a crime against everyone’s freedom.

Finally, the American consumer must break the shackles of neo-tribalism. Neo-tribalism is the idea that humans inherently see the world in tribes rather than globally. Therefore, people inherently form “tribes” with people who share their demographics, psychographics, and geographics. This leads to closed-mindedness to anything or anybody outside of their tribe. Due to neo-tribalism, rather than use technology to expand our minds and become more cosmopolitan individuals, we use it to find out what is up with our friends, to play Angry Birds, and watch Miley Cyrus twerk. If we can break the neo-tribalist urge and begin to see the world internationally, we will be forced to demand better from our media.

While the U.S. probably should not attempt to provoke Russia, the American media had a duty to present accurate coverage about more than the games. The media should have talked about the Real Russia. The Russia that jailed Pussy Riot, Greenpeace activists, and other leaders of reform movements. The Russia that detained hundreds of people for protesting the government’s decision to jail activists. However the media gave us the same dog and pony show we got from Russia. It is time that the American media hopped off the crazy train in Russia and hopped on the Yusuf Islam train to peace and sanity. Rather than blowing out the Olympic flame, the Russian bear sits and watches as the flame of despotism burns on.