BY JORDAN BARTH
Over the past few weeks, much has been written in Newsweek, The New York Times, The Huffington Post and other major publications about four-time Olympian Bode Miller’s Super-G post race interview, conducted by NBC’s Christin Cooper, a silver medalist from the 1984 Olympic Winter Games. NBC has received widespread criticism on social media since its airing Sunday, Feb. 16.
The Super-G discipline in Alpine Skiing incorporates aspects of both the downhill and the giant slalom. In this discipline, athletes achieve speeds up to 65 mph. Athletes ski a course on which the gates are placed at about the same distance apart as in the giant slalom, according to the Sochi 2014 website.
Miller’s late brother, Chellone Miller, died April 8, 2013 after suffering a seizure in his sleep. His seizures were thought to be caused by a traumatic brain injury in a 2005 dirt bike crash near his hometown. He hoped to make the United States Olympic team headed to Sochi in 2014. He was 29, according to ESPN.
Many viewers were disgusted by the lack of respect shown by the reporter to Miller in their encounter after his bronze medal win. After watching the interview in NBC’s Primetime coverage, Americans took to Twitter berating the reporter.
One tweet said, “Wow, the thing that interviewer just did to Bode Miller was SUPER disgusting. #Olympics2014;” in response to NBC’s coverage.
Another said, “#BodeMiller started being emotional and Christin Cooper went with him, that’s not manipulation it’s reporting;”
Upon seeing the negativity Cooper was receiving, Miller took to Twitter as well to defend his friend:
“Today was one of the most emotional days of my life. I miss my brother.”
“My emotions were very raw, she asked the questions that every interviewer would have, pushing is part of it, she wasn’t trying to cause pain.”
“I appreciate everyone sticking up for me. Please be gentle w christin cooper, it was crazy emotional and not all her fault. #heatofthemoment”
He also defended Cooper on the “Today Show” with Matt Lauer the following morning.
“I’ve known Christin a long time, and she is a sweetheart of a person,” Miller said. “I know she didn’t mean to push. I don’t think she really anticipated what my reaction was going to be, and I think by the time she sort of realized it, I think it was too late and I don’t really, I don’t blame her at all.”
NBC Sports issued a statement on Monday that read, “Our intent was to convey the emotion that Bode Miller was feeling after winning his bronze medal. We understand how some viewers thought the line of questioning went too far, but it was our judgment that his answers were a necessary part of the story. We’re gratified that Bode has been publicly supportive of Christin Cooper and the overall interview.”
Now, why is this criticism so outrageous? There are multiple reasons and rationales why the public’s outrage is not only inappropriate, but extremely short-sighted.
First, reporters interview those they feel best enhance their story. They interview not only to ascertain who, what, when, where, why and how that comprise every story written in the media today, but also to put a human face on the story. It is one thing to read words on the page; being engrossed in the story is completely different.
Along those lines, reporters must be able to ask tough questions that show the emotions of those who are being interviewed. It’s particularly easy to judge TV reporters because they don’t have the luxury of saying “take your time” while they are live. If the American public starts gawking at Cooper’s line of questioning in this instance, then we should be consistent in our criticism. Does that mean survivors of natural disasters, who are initially walking up to the remnants of their former home or students running out of school after seeing their friends shot and killed before their very eyes are off limits to reporters? If the answer to that question is yes, go tell that to CBS, NBC, ABC, and the remaining global media outlets. See how far that gets you.
Reporters respond to both verbal and nonverbal cues. Shedding tears does not necessarily mean an interviewee wants to stop talking. An interviewer can offer cues that they know they are asking something sensitive. In addition, those being interviewed can always refuse to answer questions. In this case, Miller did not decline. It was in fact Miller, who initially brought up his brother and appeared interested in talking about him. When that proved too hard for Miller, Cooper backed off and offered her apologies. It’s also important to note that Cooper has had a previous relationship with Miller. She built his trust over time, and that showed in his display of raw emotion. She didn’t know what to expect when she put the microphone in front of Miller’s mouth.
In addition, any time a family member of a major sports figure is involved in some sort of controversy, the media reports on it. Deaths are no different. It would have been a travesty and disservice to the public for Miller’s brother not to have been brought up during such a poignant moment.
Nor can we forget the role of human emotion involved in sport. People constantly criticize athletes for being “fake” or impersonal. These athletes sacrifice many years and dedicate an immense amount of time to their chosen pursuit; they must be doing it primarily for themselves. Was Miller’s brother on his mind before the race? Of course. Was he doing it for him? That’s almost an insult.
“So, it was just a lot of emotion for me, it’s been a lot over the last year and that you sometimes don’t realize how much you contain that stuff until the dam breaks and then it’s just a real outpouring,” Miller said.
We all have moments in our lives that speak to the last sentence of Miller’s thoughts in his “Today” interview. There have been plenty of times where we have bottled our emotions for one reason or another. In those moments, imagine being at the Olympic Games and just having skiied to a bronze medal. How would you react?
This may be unknown to those of us who do not watch a lot of skiing, but Miller has a history of having a controversial relationship with the media. He has been arrogant and difficult to work with in the past and reckless in his responses to the media. This is not the first time Miller has been the center of attention after an especially raw interview. Miller apologized for comments made during “60 Minutes” in January 2006, when he described the act of skiing as like being “wasted” and compared it to driving while intoxicated, according to The Atlantic
Finally, gender may have played a part. While I would hope that the public’s outrage is solely related to her questioning, I am not naive enough to think that gender played absolutely no role in people’s unfair, sometimes downright mean, criticism of her.