Detracting from the Real Events

American Media Coverage of Olympics Games In Beijing Portrays Host Country Unfairly

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What happened to the Olympics as a gathering of the world's best athletes to compete with good sportsmanship, while appreciating each other's strengths? Unfortunately, this year that goal has been clouded by politics, as the world's eye scrutinizes the games' controversial host.

In the United States, the urge to hold China accountable to its history of centralized rule and questionable government behavior has sparked an almost racist portrayal of all things Chinese. The media's coverage of the Olympics has been about nitpicking as much as possible the ways in which China has faltered as a host country. Beginning right after the opening ceremony with articles condemning fake fireworks and lip-syncing children, the press seems to be promoting the image of China as a swindler with a hidden agenda, fooling the world by putting on the mask of an upstanding society.

I'm not saying that China doesn't have its faults, and the uproar over the age of China's gymnasts was based on legitimate concerns. But Olympic officials have cleared these girls to compete. And despite continued speculation over their ages, the Chinese gymnasts aren't the only ones out there looking younger than 16.

What's more, American Olympic commentators have only added fuel to the fire, consistently harping on this issue while analyzing the gymnastics events. "They look rather young to be 16, but I'll let the viewer decide" is an "analysis" that I'd rather not hear again.

But the most upsetting aspect of the biased coverage of the Olympics has been the degree to which the condescending tone infiltrates every aspect of China's role in the Olympics. A story that appeared in The New York Times last week was titled, "Chinese Look Askance as Phelps Swims into History," implying there was something wrong with a nation that does not respect a well-known American athlete as we do. The article speculated on why the Chinese media was concentrating more on its own athletes than America's wonder-boy, Phelps. Oh, right, it must all lead back to the ultra-nationalistic Chinese and their censorship again. Chinese officials are afraid too much coverage of American athletes like Phelps will incite extreme nationalism amongst Chinese citizens, who will see it as saying that the United States is better than China. This is the explanation The Times gives, effectively casting the image of a China trying to keep its people from going over the edge.

The press has painted a black and white picture of a bad, corrupt China which has been dangerously cemented in the minds of the public. Any conversation with my friends about a great Chinese athletic performance will inevitably include a scoffing remark or two, including but not limited to, "of course he was perfect, his life depends on it."

Hardly a word can be said about a Chinese athlete without a qualifying mention of centralized sports schools, pressure from coaches, age cover-ups, or excessive disciplining. China has become a scapegoat for American losses as well. Coverage of the United States' loss in gymnastics focused as much on the different body types of the two teams (those underdeveloped Chinese cannot be 16!) as Alicia Sacramone's stumble.

American fears over a rising China were being projected onto this year's Olympic Games. We should hold China to high standards, but let's not let it be at the expense of losing our commitment to unbiased journalism. As history has shown, casting "the other" in black and white terms, in every context, will only lead to discrimination and racism.

Ashley Lin is a UC Berkeley student. Reply to [email protected]

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