Tag: olympic games

The Olympics Make You Care Less About Milwaukee

When Usain competes, U.S. aid plummets.

 At Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Beast, Patrick Appel offers a few hypotheses about why Americans seem to care less about the killing of Sikhs than the killing of moviegoers, including the observation that the timing of the Milwaukee shootings so soon after the Batman massacre have left many pundits unwilling to talk further about gun control for fear of sounding redundant. Appel also hypothesizes that low levels of media coverage may be due to the Aurora killings haven taken place on a slow news day while the Milwaukee killings happened during the Olympics. Robert Wright in The Atlantic proposes a potentially complementary hypothesis: that the mass American public has cared less about Milwaukee than Aurora because of a sense that the Sikhs are outsiders while the theatergoers were representative.

Research by Thomas Eisensee and David Stromberg (ungated) suggests that at least two of these guesses may be right. Eisensee and Stromberg studied the effect of news coverage of more than 5,000 natural disasters on policymakers’ responses to see whether policy responses were driven by media coverage or policy rationales. Their study hinges on a fundamental truth about the media business: during large-scale events such as the Olympics, television networks, which have a fixed time budget (even a 24-hour-network can’t broadcast more than 24 hours a day), have less time to devote to unplanned events like disasters because of the time they spend on the scheduled spectacle. As Eisensee and Stromberg write,

If two equally newsworthy disasters occur, we would expect the disaster occurring when there is a great deal of other breaking news around would have a lower chance of being covered by the news than the disaster occur- ring when there is little other news around. This crowding out is probably particularly strong for television news broadcasts that are usually of a fixed length (half an hour for ABC, CBS and NBC, and one hour for CNN).

If policymakers’ responses are driven by some inherent logic of disasters and policy rationales, then the magnitude of their reactions should be unrelated to the availability of news coverage; if policymakers instead only act when the public is watching, then their responses to similar disasters should

Their results are startling–and dismaying. U.S. policymakers react to publicity, not severity.

First, media coverage is driven not by the severity of a disaster but by factors such as how people are killed and which people are killed:

News biases relief in favor of certain disaster types and regions: for every person killed in a volcano disaster, 40,000 people must die in a drought to reach the same probability of media coverage. Similarly, it requires 40 times as many killed in an African disaster to achieve the same expected media coverage as for a disaster in Eastern Europe of similar type and magnitude.

Second, the effects of media coverage are noticeable and substantively important:

We find that natural disasters are more likely to receive relief if they occur when the pressure for news time in the U.S. network news broadcasts is low. Quantitatively, disasters are, on average, around eight percent more likely to receive relief if they occur when news pressure takes on its highest values than when taking its lowest, and five percent less likely to receive relief during the Olympics than at other times. Using another metric, to have the same chance of receiving relief, the disaster occurring during the highest news pressure must have six times as many casualties as the disaster occurring when news pressure is at its lowest, all else equal.

It also turns out that the Olympics are the most important stories generating “news pressure”–the crowding out of foreign and disaster news–on the U.S. media, much more than the World Series, the Oscars, and the Super Bowl. Other sources of news, pressure, such as the O.J. Simpson murder trial verdict, perform similarly.

Eisensee and Stromberg conclude by asserting that although their story focused on domestic media coverage’s effects on U.S. policymakers’ efforts abroad, “it seems likely that the underlying mechanisms would be equally active for domestic policy.”

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Outrage Blogging Continues: Aliya Mustafina

Andrew Sullivan’s blog has been running a series of reader reactions on the subject of the Olympics and nationalism. A recent entry:

Gabby Douglas’ gold medal is being hailed all over the place as a first for an African-American gymnast. But I believe it’s actually much more than that: Gabby is the first black athlete from anywhere to win the title, and one of very few to compete for it. I’m a good liberal, and all for the term “African-American” in its proper context, but in this case it seems to shrink the scale of Ms. Douglas’s first – and America’s. (Afro.com covers it here.) The fact that our country, while imperfect, is one where a traditionally elite (and still of course expensive) sport is open to anyone with the chops to win, gives me enormous pride. Seeing our multi-hued team of talented, determined young women – their families must have originally come here from all over the place – take apart the monochromatic, over-made-up, bawling Russians – that’s where I get my Olympic jingoism on. America f[–]k yeah.

Monochromatic? I guess “they” all look alike, eh? The Russian team captain, Aliya Mustafina, as her name makes clear, is ethnically Tatar. Recall that the Russian Federation is a multiethnic political community. Indeed, the Tatar’s faced significant discrimination and oppression during periods of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, and continue to face hurdles outside of the Republic of Tatarstan–although, I should note, Mutafina’s father and sister are also successful elite athletes.

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The Oatmeal Olympics


Following on Charli’s excellent post about the Olympics, I thought I’d add my two cents.
If you live outside of North America, (okay, and Scandinavia) you probably didn’t know. The fact is the international coverage seems to be lacking, at least if my experience in London is to be judged by. Here, the Six Nations Rugby Tournament is getting far more coverage. Not to mention the Football/Soccer.

I have been trying to figure out why this might be the case. It may be, as has been suggested before, that the Winter Olympics are quite simply the “rich people’s games”. Virtually all of the sports, skating, skiing, skeleton, etc – all of these require vast amounts of money, years of training and expensive equipment. Compare this to the summer games: track and field (with pretty much any high school in the developed world possessing the equipment to at least get you started), baseball (needed: one bat, one ball, one glove), volleyball (needed: one ball), etc. Even “expensive” summer sports (like tennis) can be entered into relatively cheaply. Growing up on the (not so mean streets) of my home town suburbia, I used to play tennis with the neighbours in the street. And we lived on a hill.


Skiing, however, was out my family’s financial reach when I was growing up. To this day I still can’t ski and I really couldn’t care less about the sport.*


So bizzaro sports (seriously – can anyone actually explain skeleton? Why are there always cow bells?) for rich white people may be one cause of a lack of interest.

But geography has to play a key role here. There is a very limited number of countries which could host a Winter Olympics. You need adequate ski slopes, cold weather and snow (something of a problem this year, from what I understand). Plus, I’m guessing that if you’re from Africa or, say, the subcontinent, this isn’t the Olympics for you – expensive sports in climates that don’t exist within miles of your national borders.

Finally, I can’t help but wondering if it is just that Canada is boring. I mean, the lead up to Beijing was HUGE. The BBC ran daily leading stories on it for months. The games were seen as symbolic in all kinds of ways. China taking another step as a major global power. The crackdown on dissidents. The fact that a major earthquake happened just a few weeks before. I could go on.

In other words, the Beijing Olympics were interesting because China was interesting. And the Canadian Olympics? They’re boring because Canada is boring. Other than native protestors, there really hasn’t been much hoopla (and those protests haven’t received much coverage internationally). It may be the story behind the games which really captures our imagination.

So that’s why I dub these the “Oatmeal Games” – might be good for you and wholesome, but not exactly interesting. The breakfast food of the middle classes – when, let’s face it, we’d all rather be digging into some Lucky Charms.

*I did try to learn once in French. Let’s just say I got a lot of practice screaming “au secours!”

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Olympic Observations

Echoing Rodger, Dan and Charli are doing excellent work on the serious stuff of the day, so here are a few light observations after a few light hours watching some of the Olympics over the weekend.

  • Still President Bush is everywhere–its like he has nothing better to do. He’s at the basketball game. Then he’s with Misty May and Kerri Walsh, tapping May on the backside. Then he’s on for an in-studio interview / commentary session with Bob Costas who gave David Gregory a good run for his money with some actual substantive questions. Then, not 2 segments later, he’s in the water cube cheering on Michael Phelps and the US swimmers. Yes, he’s doing some diplomacy and meeting with Chinese officials, and yes, with modern communications he can run an NSC meeting from anywhere, but doesn’t he have a day job with a few pressing demands right now?
  • Why is it that the logo on the gymnastics equipment is in English? (photos here) It says “Beijing 2008” not in Chinese but English. I know English is one of the official languages of the Olympics, but you’d think there would be more Chinese in those logo-spots that are there because they continually get caught on camera when the gymnasts tumble over them.
  • Does anyone understand this new gymnastics scoring system? That one US woman fell on her #$% on the dismount and still scored a 15+ and will qualify. It wasn’t a small fall, she totally rolled over. What’s up with that? I remain steadfast in my position that “sports” that rely completely on subjective judging aren’t actual sports. This includes gymnastics and ice skating, which are the biggest TV draws for summer and winter games.
  • Wow, the swimming is impressive. They are absolutely flying through the pool.
  • Kristy Coventry is quite an interesting story–a white female racking up medals for Zimbabwe.
  • All this smog can’t be good for China’s image, I wonder if this will have any impact on the climate treaty talks…

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Olympic Dreams

The 2008 Summer Olympic games kicked off today in Beijing, on the same day as Russia and Georgia go to war. Correlation? Causation?

John Hoberman’s “Think Again” article in the most recent issue of Foreign Policy would have us believe that the Olympics are not only irrelevant to, but actually bad for world order and international cooperation:

“The real genius of the IOC is its ability to create and sustain the myth that it promotes peace. In reality… trapped by its grandiose goal of embracing the entire ‘human family’ at whatever cost, the IOC has repeatedly caved in and awarded the games to police states bent on staging spectacular festivals that serve only to reinforce their own authority.”

I am no expert on the IOC’s history or on any large-N studies that may or may not confirm Hoberman’s claim that the Olympics have a negative or at best zero effect on the frequency or intensity of interstate war. But I am able to see an important conceptual problem in Hoberman’s argument: he treats “internal human rights” as synonymous with “interstate peace.” For example, the first sentence of his abstract begins with the foil: “The Olympic Games were founded to bridge cultural divides and promote peace.” But the article primarily refers to the internal human rights abuses of certain Olympic-hosting states as evidence that this goal has not been met by the IOC. Hoberman derides the IOC’s official policy of political neutrality and Olympic diplomacy as an “old cliche”:

“What the Olympics promote instead is a form of amoral universalism in which all countries are entitled to take part in the games no matter how barbaric their leaders may be.”

But it is precisely this amoral universalism that has the capacity to promote peace – among, not within, countries. It is no different from the political neutrality espoused by humanitarian organizations who, like the IOC, lack coercive instruments and instead peddle universal norms; or by the United Nations, an organization founded on the sovereign equality of states moreso than on a commitment to clean up their internal politics. In fact, the tension between these two noble goals – international stability between states, and human rights within them – underlies many of the key debates about UN reform today. Hoberman treats these two goals as if they are the same and can be conflated, when in fact, achieving one often depends on undermining the other.

Do the Olympics promote human rights? I’ll buy his argument that they can legitimize offending governments. But does the IOC claim to be a human rights organization? No. Its avowed goal of “acting as a catalyst for collaboration between all members of the Olympic Family” does in fact, perhaps, sometimes depend on looking the other way when it comes to internal repression by governments who think of themselves as family members.

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