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Chapter 6 International Image Repair

Most studies of image repair concern discourse that arises in the United States. However, it is obvious that threats to image, and discourse intended to repair damaged images, occur throughout the world. International image repair can be conceptualized as occurring in two distinct situations. First, simply because current image repair research mainly investigates American crises, studies of image repair occurring in other countries are important contributions to the literature (this can be considered non-U.S. image repair). Second, and perhaps even more interesting, are studies of image repair that cross borders, involving a clash of cultures (this situation will be called international image repair). Previous research has investigated image repair discourse in both situations. After reviewing some of the research in this area, new case studies on international corporate and diplomatic image repair are presented.

Benoit and Brinson (1999) examined the controversy over the tragic death of Princess Diana, illustrating non-U.S. image repair. Royals are often reserved, and some accused the royal family of not caring about Princess Di's death. Queen Elizabeth employed image repair, using denial and bolstering and, to a lesser extent, defeasibility and transcendence. Although the world was interested in Princess Di, the Queen's image repair appeared mainly designed for a British audience, her subjects. Her defense is evaluated as generally effective in this instance.

In other cases, image repair originating in one country is intended for an audience in another country. In the wake of the tragic events of 9/11, Saudi Arabia engaged in image repair, as 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. The country was accused of supporting terrorism and refusing to support a possible U.S. invasion of Iraq. Zhang and Benoit (2004) analyzed the country's campaign to repair its image in the United States via advertisements on television and radio and in publications. The image repair effort relied heavily on denial and bolstering and was evaluated as generally persuasive.

In 2001, the USS submarine Greeneville destroyed a Japanese trawler, the Ehime Maru, killing nine people. Drumheller and Benoit (2004) studied the United States' image repair discourse. The defense primarily employed mortification. However, the U.S. government apparently did not fully understand Japanese cultural norms, which hold that the offender should apologize directly to the families of the victims. The Japanese government, perhaps because of the importance of Japanese-U.S. relations, was more accepting of the apology than the Japanese people. This case study illustrates international image repair.

Kampf (2008) investigated 273 apologies by public and political figures in Israel between 1997 and 2004. More apologies were accepted than rejected. He argued that (1) apologies are more likely to be accepted when the offender appears embarrassed and (2) severity of the offense is inversely related to acceptance.

In 2007, exports from China faced several crises involving the safety of such products as pet food, candy, toothpaste, toys, and pajamas. Products were banned and recalled. Peijuan, Ting, and Pang (2009) investigated China's image repair discourse on products “Made in China.” The image repair efforts employed denial, shifting blame, bolstering, and corrective action. Use of denial and bolstering at the same time as corrective action was judged to be ineffective.

Chinese health minister Zhang Wenkang was accused of an ineffectual response to the SARS outbreak in China as well as an attempt to cover up the severity of the epidemic. Zhang employed a variety of strategies—denial, defeasibility, bolstering, minimization, differentiation, attack accuser, and, near the end, corrective action. This defense was evaluated as ineffective, and Zhang was removed as health minister (Zhang & Benoit, 2009).

Meng (2010) looked at SK-II, which sold cosmetics in China. The company was accused of false advertising and not disclosing its products' ingredients. The image repair effort used denial, accident, bolstering, minimization, and eventually corrective action. Meng criticized the company for not using apology or compensation and evaluates the defense as generally ineffective. In these case studies of image repair in non-U.S. countries, the primary audiences were from the same country as the image repair rhetor (see also Wen, Yu, & Benoit's 2009 analysis of Taiwanese pitcher Chien-ming Wang, reviewed in chapter 5). The United States and Taiwan experienced devastating weather when Hurricane Katrina and Typhoon Morokot struck. Both governments were accused of inordinately slow responses to these disasters. Low, Varughese, and Pang (2011) investigated news reports of the image repair efforts of these governments. Taiwan relied mainly on mortification and corrective action, whereas the United States predominantly used defeasibility and bolstering.

After a case of mad cow disease occurred in the United States in 2003, American beef was banned by 65 countries, including Taiwan. The image repair effort employed denial, bolstering, minimization, attack accuser, and a thinly veiled threat. This defense was evaluated as generally ineffective (Wen, Yu, & Benoit, 2012). This case study illustrates image repair discourse that is genuinely international, with a source in one country (in this case, the United States) attempting to persuade an audience in other country (Taiwan). Sometimes disparate cultural norms can complicate this situation.

Chapter 7 on third party image repair also reviews research that can also be considered international image repair, including several studies on Japanese apologies for the use of “comfort women” (sex slaves) for the Japanese Armed Forces in World War II. This chapter now turns to additional case studies on image repair discourse around the world: non-U.S. corporate image repair and international diplomatic image repair.

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