Olympic Tears

By Casey Bukro

Olympic skier Bode Miller cried as NBC’s Christin Cooper interviewed him, asking him a string of questions about the influence Miller’s dead brother might have had on the skier’s bronze metal performance in the race he had just finished.

Midway through the interview, tears streaming down his face, stammering at times, Miller bowed his helmeted head and fell silent. Cooper placed a hand on Miller’s arm and said: “Sorry.”

The media and the world in general have come down hard on Cooper,  a former Olympic skier herself in the 1984 games, for “pushing too hard” in the Miller interview.

In the aftermath of this furor, Miller proved to be a class act. He tweeted, “please be gentle w christen cooper, it was crazy emotional and not at all her fault.” In another tweet, he said “she asked questions that every interviewer would have, pushing is part of it, she wasn’t trying to cause pain.”

Miller has a point. It is the nature of television to go for the visual and the emotional. Cooper noted that Miller looked to the sky moments before starting his medal-winning Alpine Super-G run, implying he might be thinking about his brother Chelone, who died at the age of 29 last year after suffering a seizure. Miller said later there was some truth to that.

Cooper is one of those attractive sport figures turned broadcasters. Without a background in professional journalism, there is reason to believe Cooper simply does not understand or did not have the depth of experience to learn how far to go. She is co-founder of a restaurant in Bozeman, Montana.

There are boundaries in good taste and ethics that professional journalists learn to recognize, or should learn to recognize.

At least credit Cooper for saying “sorry,” perhaps moved by seeing how emotionally distraught Miller became by her questions about Chelone.

Television puts attractive but nonprofessional commentators in sensitive situations at its own peril. That might be one of the lessons of the Sochi Olympics in Russia.

Although much of the criticism rained down on Cooper, nothing was said about the excessive time NBC’s camera followed Miller after he walked away from Cooper, then slumped down weeping against a low wall until his wife came to comfort him. It was too much.

The Cooper interview has been timed by the New York Times at 75 seconds. But the camera lingered on Miller far longer after he ended the interview by walking away.  At that point, the interview was over. Miller should have been left alone in his private grief, instead of being hounded by the camera.

Maybe it was NBC’s idea of good TV, but it was  a bad way to treat a human being.

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