Sochi Doesn’t Make Russia Look Bad. It Makes the Media Look Bad.

After a successful week of the Winter Olympics, earlier reports about Sochi’s unpreparedness seem mean-spirited and unnecessary.

National Journal
Marina Koren
Add to Briefcase
Marina Koren
Feb. 14, 2014, 9:28 a.m.

In the days lead­ing up to the Winter Olympics, the me­dia’s at­ten­tion was not on alpine ski­ing or pairs skat­ing. It was on Rus­sia and, spe­cific­ally, how un­pre­pared the coun­try was to host the Games: In So­chi, ho­tels were miss­ing en­tire lob­bies, toi­lets couldn’t flush toi­let pa­per, yel­low-colored wa­ter flowed from sinks.

All this seemed too amus­ing not to share. “2014 So­chi Winter Olympics plagued by #So­chiProb­lems (and it’s hil­ari­ous),” an­nounced one Den­ver Post head­line. “Journ­al­ists at So­chi are live-tweet­ing their hil­ari­ous and gross hotel ex­per­i­ences,” The Wash­ing­ton Post de­clared. BuzzFeed went all out with “Pho­to­graph­ic Proof That So­chi Is A God­for­saken Hell­s­cape Right Now.”

Now, a week after an an­imat­ron­ic snow­flake failed to be­come an Olympic ring dur­ing the open­ing ce­re­mony, re­ports of these “only in Rus­sia” mo­ments have all but dis­ap­peared. Cov­er­age has shif­ted to the ac­tu­al Games — the fa­vor­ites, the wipeouts, the medal counts — and oc­ca­sion­ally Bob Cos­t­as’s linger­ing pink eye. Even @So­chiprob­lems, which has nearly 100,000 more fol­low­ers than the Games’ of­fi­cial Twit­ter ac­count, is tweet­ing about the com­pet­i­tions.

It’s al­most as if news or­gan­iz­a­tions re­membered why they sent re­port­ers to So­chi in the first place — to cov­er the Olympics, not to poke fun at the host city. Or maybe it’s be­cause, snow­flake glitches and half-pipe com­plaints aside, the So­chi Games are gen­er­ally go­ing off without a hitch. No train de­rail­ments, no ac­ci­dents, no ser­i­ous #so­chiprob­lems. Wait­ing for So­chi to fail was a lost cause.

Rus­sia is not the one who looks bad be­cause of So­chi. It’s the me­dia.

“It does seem like the West­ern press is on the hunt for evid­ence of how in­ept and hil­ari­ous the Rus­si­ans are,” The New Re­pub­lic‘s Ju­lia Ioffe wrote of the schaden­freude be­fore she ar­rived in So­chi. “There does seem to be something mean-spir­ited in all of this, as if the West­ern press came hop­ing to en­counter pil­low short­ages and rusty wa­ter.”

The West­ern press sug­ar­coated Athens’ trouble race against time to pre­pare in 2004, Ioffe poin­ted out, and slammed Mitt Rom­ney for cri­ti­ciz­ing Lon­don’s level of pre­pared­ness in 2012. This year, however, So­chi was a punch­line. “Some of the com­ments and tweets have felt too much like the rich kid in class mak­ing fun of the one who can’t af­ford good clothes,” one read­er wrote on Sarah Kauf­man’s re­cent Poli­cyM­ic story on the me­dia feed­ing frenzy.

The Olympics are his­tor­ic­ally not all fun and games for host cit­ies, as Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Elahe Iz­adi ex­plained re­cently. Athens ended up with crip­pling debt and a bunch of aban­doned sports com­plexes. The air-pol­lu­tion levels that China com­mit­ted to cut­ting in Beijing re­boun­ded after the 2008 Games ended. Ready­ing So­chi has been a sev­en-year cor­rup­tion-rid­den, work­er-rights-vi­ol­at­ing af­fair, and the people who live there year-round have be­come an af­ter­thought. Not ex­actly joke ma­ter­i­al.

It’s easy for trav­el­ing journ­al­ists to en­gage in this Sochi­freude. For one, many of them don’t un­der­stand Rus­si­an cul­ture and rely in­stead on out­dated ste­reo­types of how back­wards life in Rus­sia re­mains in the 21st cen­tury. For an­oth­er, they get to fly back to their demo­crat­ic home coun­tries once the Games wrap up next week, where their ho­tels, toi­lets, and sinks are flaw­less, re­mem­ber? And the cards were stacked against So­chi long be­fore the first re­port­er landed on the Black Sea coast. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent glob­al sur­vey by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter, a me­di­an of 36 per­cent of the pub­lics in 38 na­tions ex­press a fa­vor­able view of Rus­sia. Mean­while, 63 per­cent of the world’s gen­er­al pub­lics hold a fa­vor­able view of the United States.

Life in Rus­sia can truly be gruel­ing, and it’s far more than a joke. The prob­lems vis­it­ors to So­chi briefly en­counter make up the real­ity of daily life for Rus­sia’s 143 mil­lion people. For Rus­si­ans, watch­ing the in­ter­na­tion­al me­dia jump on So­chi’s bungled start has been pain­ful and em­bar­rass­ing. For them, “only in Rus­sia” is al­ways in Rus­sia.

What We're Following See More »
GRASSLEY STILL WANTS HER TO APPEAR ON MONDAY
Ford Asks for FBI Investigation into Her Claims
54 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"Christine Blasey Ford told Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley Tuesday night that she wants the FBI to investigate her claims of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, raising further doubts about whether she and Kavanaugh will appear before the committee on Monday." Grassley still wants her to

$200 DONORS TO ADVOCACY ADS MUST BE DISCLOSED
SCOTUS Upholds Ruling on Donor Transparency
8 hours ago
THE LATEST
DEFENSE AND LABOR-HHS
Senate Approves $854B Spending Bill
9 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Senators on Tuesday voted 93-7 to pass a sweeping $854 billion spending bill that includes funding for the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Labor and Education, which make up the lion’s share of total government spending." Six Republicans voted no, along with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. "It’s the first time the Senate has approved funding for Labor, HHS or Education outside an omnibus bill since 2007."

Source:
IN AFTERMATH OF FLORENCE
Trump Visiting Carolinas Tomorrow
11 hours ago
THE LATEST
"It is not yet clear where in North Carolina Trump is expected visit. Trump is expected to visit Myrtle Beach while in South Carolina.
Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina are expected to fly on Air Force One with Trump."
Source:
TO OCT. 3
FEMA Postpones Trump Text Alert
13 hours ago
THE LATEST

FEMA, "which oversees the wireless emergency alert (WEA) system, announced that the test that had been scheduled for Thursday will be pushed back to Oct. 3, citing the 'ongoing response efforts to Hurricane Florence.'" The system, intended for national emergencies, allows the president to send a nationwide wireless message.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login