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NBC offended Koreans during 1988 Seoul Olympics too.

Between comments by NBC's Joshua Cooper Ramo praising Japan's 1910-45 occupation of Korea during the Olympics opening ceremony, controversy over NBC's incorrect pronunciation of PyeongChang and a Chicago TV station's blunder mixing the city up with Chinese-American food chain P.F. Chang, the U.S. media has been criticized for its Olympics coverage. Though it is mostly forgotten today, NBC also angered Koreans during its coverage of the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

U.S. athletes first attracted negative attention when the U.S. Olympic team's disorganized entry during the opening ceremony (in which participants held up signs like "Hi mom, send won") was perceived as disrespecting the host.

It was NBC's coverage of a boxing incident which truly angered Koreans, however. When New Zealand referee Keith Walker penalized Korean boxer Byun Jong-il and he lost a match based on points, Byun's coach and even security guards rushed into the ring to beat Walker. NBC repeatedly covered this incident, as well as Byun's 67-minute sit-in protest, leading to charges in the Korean press that NBC was deliberately trying to embarrass Korea.

While the local press described the shame the incident had brought upon Korea, it also highlighted the unfairness of the referee and of NBC's coverage. "The U.S. and Japanese media have special reports on this as if they were waiting for this to happen," read a Dong-a Ilbo headline, while an editorial in the same paper wondered why foreigners were "so readily prone to pick on our shortcomings" and asked, "Hasn't our overindulgence in humbleness brought about our self-degradation?"

Subsequent Korean coverage of NBC and incidents involving U.S. athletes (who gave the media lots of material to work with) quickly turned negative.

First, two U.S. medal-winning swimmers and a coach stole a stone mask from the bar J.J. Mahoney's at the Grand Hyatt Seoul uphill from Itaewon, in what the U.S. media dismissed as a prank. Then four GIs caused a ruckus after an argument over taxi fare turned ugly. Then a U.S. runner was detained for kicking a taxi. All these incidents involved violent interactions in Itaewon with Korean bystanders, whose anger may have been stoked by the negative media coverage of NBC and America in general.

While NBC's special programs on Korea highlighting Korean sweatshops, urban poor, prostitutes and overseas adoption annoyed Koreans, NBC caused even more anger when staffers ordered T-shirts depicting two boxers superimposed over the Korean flag, captioned "Chaos Tour 88," which was perceived as an insult to the Korean flag. As the Dong-a Ilbo put it, "people say they can't tell whether NBC has come to broadcast the Olympics or to slander the Olympic hosts." This led to apologies, the cancellation of a documentary about Korean women, and warnings to NBC staff not to display NBC logos in public.

While a number of politicians stepped into the fray, warning that NBC's "distorted reports about Korea" could "further inflame the anti-American sentiment already spreading among the Korean people," it soon became clear things were getting out of hand. In fact, none other than President Roh Tae-woo felt compelled to intervene by visiting the main Olympic press center, greeting NBC staffers and saying "The news media of the two countries now should report in a way not to provoke the sentiments of each other's people."

While the furor did eventually die down, certain activist groups were able to ride this wave of anti-Americanism to make gains in expanding South Korean sovereignty over Americans in Korea.
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Publication:The Korea Times News (Seoul, Korea)
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Feb 20, 2018
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