Mark Radcliffe wonders if Christin Cooper couldn’t have gotten the interview with Bode Miller she was looking for if she had just been a little more patient.
By now, most of you have probably seen the interview. In his 5th Olympics, renegade skier Bode Miller pulls out a trademark blazing-but-error-ridden run to nab his 6th Olympic medal—a bronze in the Super G at a record-breaking 36 years old. But this medal was different; it came after a year off from the sport to recover from knee surgery and after the death of his younger brother to a seizure last year. And Christin Cooper was there to interview him at the finish.
And the internet was none too happy with how it turned out.
Before long, Bode was tearing up, and what should have probably been a 30-second segment of questioning went on for more like 75 seconds, with perhaps at least one trolling question too many, and soon Bode couldn’t go on any more. He slumped forward in tears, unable to speak. He walked away after a consoling gesture from Christin and went off to compose himself.
This was when the cameras really should have pulled away or cut to the next interview.
But NBC didn’t.
They stayed on him. For a good 30 seconds while he sat there folded over.
It felt a little like we installed a secret cam inside his bedroom to spy on him in his most vulnerable and private moment. He literally had nowhere to go. He was at the finish line, at least 1000 feet from any privacy, and there would be 10,000 fans between him and any destination.
But the cameras stayed on him. Finally his wife Morgan arrived to console him.
Network TV loves a comeback story, especially one with some real human drama. This one was just about perfect: the ultimate cowboy of the skiing world was perhaps now—if ever—going to show his vulnerable side, and it seems NBC was determined to get that inside view. Anyone who follows skiing knew this moment might be coming. You could almost imagine the memo from the producers: As soon as he wins that medal, we gotta ask him about his brother.
I don’t fault the effort to get at this story—it’s a relevant and compelling one. But the level of probing to mine the “human interest story” seems to have gone too far. The internet has raced to condemn the interviewer in question, Christin Cooper, for being so aggressive as to provoke tears. While I think it might have gone one question too far (Bode was already clearly out of words or composure to handle a third question on the subject), what most viewers don’t know is this: Christin and Bode are friends, have been for years. And she’s a former Olympic Alpine medalist herself (from ‘84), so they have a connection, and presumably as the two are good friends, as Bode would insist later, they have talked about his brother before. I’m only sorry that it didn’t go off more elegantly. Christin’s a great person who just perhaps didn’t choose the ideal approach in a tough situation.
I feel a bit of a connection to Bode as I grew up a competitive skier myself and even went to the same ski academy as him (CVA in Sugarloaf, ME). And while I shook my head at his nonchalant attitude towards the Olympics in 2006, my heart was with him here. Make no mistake, Bode’s no easy guy to interview—he typically shows little emotion and is a bit stand-offish to reporters. And he’s not the most forthcoming with answers; he needs to be led a bit. But sadly, he wasn’t quite able to give Christin the answers she felt might be inside him, and as a result the whole thing just got awkward for all of us at home who felt sorry for him. We saw what Christin seemed to be missing: this was a guy who had nothing left in the tank. He just won his 6th Olympic medal and is in some ways still grieving the loss of his brother. Cut away and give him a break.
Bode defended her on Twitter later, saying, “I appreciate everyone sticking up for me. Please be gentle w christin cooper, it was crazy emotional and not all her fault. #heatofthemoment.”
But the sad thing is that I think Christin could have gotten the story she wanted if she’d just been willing to wait a bit. Maybe catch him the next day or after the next of Bode’s two other races.
But this is where we see the price of Network TV™’s drive to get ratings: push, push, push to get the one clip that might get re-tweeted a few million times. And here it went a tad too far. It was a fine line that was crossed, but after multiple viewings of the interview, it definitely seemed crossed. And we viewers were left feeling complicity for having been along for the ride.
The interesting thing to see would be what had happened if Christin had been a bit more restrained. Or just given Bode a moment to regain himself by asking about his tactics on the course, or cut to one of the other athletes for a second. But what we saw here was the price of being too eager. I see it in my fellow men all the time as they try way too hard to elicit interest from an attractive woman in a bar, where they only succeed in driving her further away. But here on the slopes of Russia after such an impressive performance, it felt like an awkward collision that could have easily been avoided.
Here’s to a more graceful dismount for future Olympic interviews down the road.
Christophe Ena/AP Photo