NBC Makes Bode Miller Cry, Then Presses On (and On and On) to Make Him Cry Some More

Scenes from the Olympics.
Feb. 17 2014 12:43 PM

The Olympics Rage-o-Meter

NBC makes Bode Miller cry, then presses on (and on and on) to make him cry some more.

469677981-skier-bode-miller-reacts-after-the-mens-alpine-skiing
Bode Miller's emotional response to winning bronze in the Super-G on Sunday.

Photo by Alexander Klein/AFP/Getty Images

On Sunday in Sochi, one of NBC’s preordained Winter Olympics stars finally came through with a medal, as Bode Miller tied for bronze in the men’s super-G. Prior to Miller’s run, the Peacock screened a weepy feature on the death of Miller’s snowboarder brother Chelone. After he skied down the mountain, NBC’s cameras zoomed in on Miller and his wife Morgan for a solid hour as they watched other skiers challenge his time. When Miller hung on to his podium position, NBC’s Christin Cooper asked him about his “extraordinary accomplishment” and what this particular medal—his sixth in Olympic competition—meant to him. Miller mentioned his brother’s death, and how he wanted to honor his memory.

This was NBC’s cue to zoom in painfully close to Miller’s face, and for Cooper to say, “Bode, you’re showing so much emotion down here, what’s going through your mind?” After Miller said it had been a “tough year,” Cooper pressed on with two more questions about his brother. At this point, an attorney might have shouted, “Asked and answered!” But the camera kept on zooming in as Miller eventually bowed his head, unable to continue with the interview.

Why are we angry? For all the grief the Peacock takes for rolling out Olympic sob story after Olympic sob story, it’s undeniable that viewers get something out of these features. NBC’s feature on Alex Bilodeau and his brother Frederic, for instance, taught us something important about the Canadian freestyle skier while also reducing us “to a watery heap of melting snow and brotherly devotion,” in the words of my colleague Jessica Winter.

Advertisement

In this case, however, NBC was exploiting Miller’s personal pain so transparently that viewers recoiled. While Miller was being reduced to a watery heap of melting snow, the rest of us formed a rage avalanche.

How angry are we? Very. In this case, the populist furor on Twitter was matched by disbelief from journalists. The New York Times’ Richard Sandomir wrote, “If you’ve made a medal winner cry, it is time to simply say ‘thank you’ and move on.” Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky argued, “There is criticism here, and it's not for Cooper. It's for the cottage industry that Olympic pathos has become. Bode Miller might be the most interesting man at these games, but to NBC, he's not ratings gold until he sheds primetime tears in extreme close-up.”

How angry should we be? Miller himself says he’s not mad at Christin Cooper, who he’s had a relationship with for more than a decade, and that his fans shouldn’t be either.

Nathaniel Vinton also wrote an interesting column for the New York Daily News arguing that Cooper did a perfectly fine job. Vinton notes that Miller “has spent at least 16 years standing before cameras almost every day, all winter long” and that he “has been steadily more willing to show vulnerability before the media—especially for familiar folks like Cooper.”

But I believe that Vinton’s piece misunderstands the complaint against Cooper and NBC. Nobody is begrudging Cooper the content of her questions—after all, it was Miller who brought up his brother. It was her persistence even after the ski racer had answered her questions, digging that seemed designed to elicit an emotional response rather than information or insight. The camera, too, zoomed in so close to Miller’s face that it was clear what NBC wanted us to focus on: his tear ducts, not his words. Anyone—and that includes Bode Miller—who thinks that Cooper and NBC didn’t do anything wrong here has set a ridiculously low bar for the Peacock.

Rage-o-Meter Score: A five out of six for the Peacock on Sunday night, a roasting the likes of which we haven’t seen since the opening ceremony.

140210_FRC_peacock-5of6

Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer

Previous Rage-o-Meter entries:

Josh Levin is Slate's executive editor.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?