Bode Miller knows, like we all do, that the only thing NBC likes more than stories about dead relatives are ones about heartbreaking disappointment. On Sunday, Bode Miller won the bronze medal in one of the last races in his career, the men's Super-G. The victory tied him with Bonnie Blair in second place for the most career medals a U.S. Olympian has won at the Winter Olympics.
Yet, the focus of NBC's coverage was Miller's dead brother, Chilly. Chilly was a snowboarder who had hopes of going to Sochi, but died unexpectedly last April. NBC Olympics correspondent Christin Cooper asked him about his brother immediately upon finishing, and didn't let it go until Miller doubled over and wept.
Here's a transcript of the key moment:
Cooper: I know you wanted to be here with Chilly experiencing these games, how much does it mean to you to come up with a great performance for him? And was it for him?
Miller: I mean, I don't know it's really for him. But I wanted to come here and uh — I don't know, I guess make my self proud.
Cooper: When you're looking up in the sky at the start, we see you there and it just looks like you're talking to somebody. What's going on there?
There's something uncomfortable with a human asking another grown human about a dead relative on national television. And there's something deeply upsetting when you watch someone keep on asking. Cooper and NBC have been criticized profusely for the line of questioning and NBC's decision to run the (not live) interview in primetime.
On the Today show on Monday, Miller said he forgave Cooper for her questions and doesn't have any hard feelings. "I know she didn't mean to push ... I don't blame her at all," he said.
I appreciate everyone sticking up for me. Please be gentle w christin cooper, it was crazy emotional and not all her fault. #heatofthemoment— Bode Miller (@MillerBode) February 17, 2014
My emotions were very raw, she asked the questions that every interviewer would have, pushing is part of it, she wasnt trying to cause pain.— Bode Miller (@MillerBode) February 17, 2014
Miller, of course, is a veteran of Olympic coverage and emotional, personal interviews. He knows as well as anyone how the media game works. So does anyone who has seen NBC's skeleton coverage in the last few days. On Friday, after Katie Uhlaender barely missed out on a bronze medal, reporter Lewis Johnson asked her about her father who recently passed away, squeezing some tears of Uhlaender. A day after, Johnson caught up with skeleton sledder John Daly just moments after a heart-crushing race when a misstep at the start of the run cost him a shot at a bronze medal. Daly had to step away from the interview to cry.
Tears aren't just unique to the Winter Olympics. In 2008, U.S. gymnast Alicia Sacramone had a not-great performance in the team finals, with a fall on the beam and a flub on the floor exercise. Her errors were part of the reason the US lost the gold to China. NBC's Andrea Joyce reminded her of this, asking her a series of questions like: "Do you blame yourself?" and "You worked a long time to get here; what were you thinking?" Sacramone eventually began to cry and NBC cut off the interview.
Emotional family stories have been the bread and butter of Olympic TV coverage, since even before Dan Jansen crumbled on the ice in Calgary following the death of his sister. (That only made his world record six years later all the more triumphant.) As for NBC, they also aren't backing down on their decision to prod Miller with the questions. "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," NBC said in a statement. "We’re gratified that Bode has been publicly supportive of Christin Cooper and the overall interview.”