The Public Will be the Ultimate Judge of Whether the Olympics Soften China's ImageRoundup
tags: sports, China, human rights, Olympic Games
Michael J. Socolow is the director of the McGillicuddy Humanities Center at the University of Maine, where he teaches media history and journalism.
The Winter Olympics have provided striking images from China. The Games have showcased athletes shattering records with thrilling, historic performances. The beautifully choreographed Opening Ceremonies, and the lighting of the Olympic flame, were dazzling.
Such propaganda is the goal of the Chinese dictatorship, which under President Xi Jinping is resorting to extraordinary and unprecedented media controls to ensure viewers around the world enjoy sporting competitions while celebrating his nation’s new global prominence. Xi is counting on global gratitude for the show being carefully staged and broadcast across the planet.
Will it work in changing China’s international image from an expansionist authoritarian regime to a peaceful and collaborative nation?
Only we will decide. The Games have long provided opportunities for dictators to cleanse stains and soften international images. And for Nazi Germany it worked, for a short time.
The lesson? Audiences need to carefully process images and audio from Beijing, understanding that this media is designed to alter — or even reverse — world opinion about China.
The 1936 Berlin Games briefly altered global attitudes toward Nazi Germany. In the summer of 1941, when wars in Europe and the Pacific threatened to engulf the United States, NBC introduced a public service radio program examining how liberty — as defined by those in the United States — had become threatened around the world. NBC’s Ben Grauer invited John R. Tunis, a best-selling novelist and sportswriter, to discuss the situation. Asked his opinion about why Americans might have missed alarming signals in the immediate prewar years, Tunis zeroed in on a specific event: the 1936 Berlin Games.
Coverage of the Berlin Games, Tunis argued, represented one of the most important missed opportunities for journalists to tell Americans the truth about Nazi Germany. Tunis excoriated the journalists he thought were complicit with propagating German propaganda during the 1936 Olympic festival. Only one — columnist Westbrook Pegler — had the nerve to speak up. As he told NBC’s listeners, “Hey! Wait a minute! This thing’s a racket!”