Media Bias: Olympic Edition

If you go to to study the Olympic medal counts, you will find the United States sitting proudly at the top of the list.

When I last checked, the U.S. had about 13 more medals than China. Russia, in third place, has barely more than half the medals we have. Great Britain is in fourth. You’ll find this same ranking in The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post, and virtually every other American media outlet.

If you look at the BBC medal count, however, the U.S. is second and Great Britain is third. Strange, since they are reporting on the same Olympics. The difference is that the BBC ranks countries according to their number of gold medals, rather than overall medals.

Could it be mere coincidence that Reuters also chooses to rank countries by gold medals?

I did not even need to look to know that the Chinese media would report results based on gold medals, a category that China is dominating.

There are, however, counterexamples. Le Figaro lists countries by gold medals — even though France has only four golds, but a combined total of 26 silver and bronze medals — and so does the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

(Hat tip: David Yin)

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  1. Pedro says:

    I have the impression that every other country but US rank the countries by gold numbers

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  2. notannbcolympicsfan says:

    Whose bias is it? Is one of the practices the norm? How does the IOC choose to represent it? How have each of those outlets represented the same info at previous Olympics when the apparent bias might prefer a different presentation?

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  3. David G. says:

    When I was little the newspapers always listing countries by total medals. This always struck me as stupid. I thought it should be on a 5-3-1 (gold-silver-bronze) ranking. So it’s sort of a compromise position as China would be ahead of the US despite having less medals but Russia would be ahead of Great Britain despite having less golds.

    I’m not sure that this is media bias although it certainly sounds like it is. You need to check how these things were reported in other years. I think that the US media has always listed it according to medals.

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  4. JH says:

    They should give points for different medals. 3 for a gold, 2 for a silver, and 1 for a bronze…or some other weights if there is a more appropriate scoring system.

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  5. Dan says:

    It would be interesting to see medals ranked by countries populations: China has nearly 20 times the population of the UK yet our little island has just half the total medals.

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  6. Chris says:

    Ummm….I think you’ll find that just about everyone, including the IOC, ranks the medal table by gold medals, not just the British and the Chinese.

    It’s basically only the US that ranks by total medals. Now, you’ve always done this, so it’s not a question of just trying to appear above China, but it’s still true that the reality is that the US is out of step with everyone else, not that it varies by country.

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  7. Bob says:

    The difference in displays between the U.S. and the rest of the world is not related to the current medal count.

    Read this article to find out about the historic underpinnings of different medal counts, and why the IOC refuses to officially keep a medal count.

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  8. Mike Scott says:

    Ranking by gold medals is the official IOC-approved way of producing the medal table. It’s just the US press that is doing it wrong in order to boost their country’s apparent standing.

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