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

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Doublex

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Politico Wonders Why Gabby Giffords Is So “Ruthless” on Gun Control

Behold
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?