The 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games was a sporting and financial success, yet an international image disaster. Atlanta’s goal to shine on a global stage was met with harsh criticism and stereotypical portrayals by media nationally and around the world. What happened? Using a multimethod approach, including content analyses of print and broadcast media in 27 countries, review of institutional reports, and observation of media operations during the Games, this study identifies four key factors largely responsible for Atlanta’s image disaster as Olympic host. In doing so, it provides an exemplar case study of the complex challenges faced by hosts of global media events in their efforts to garner favorable international media coverage. A secondary purpose of this case study is to summarize the preparations, process, and innovations related to media use in the Atlanta Games. Such an account of Atlanta 1996 is missing in the current Olympics literature.
The author is with the Dept. of Communication, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195.