Emotional Response: How NBC Crossed the Line In Its Olympic Skiing Coverage

Emotional Response:  How NBC Crossed the Line In Its Olympic Skiing Coverage



Human interest stories and the Olympics go hand in hand.


Every two years, the world gets together for just over two weeks to watch the best athletes in the world compete in their various disciplines.  For the competing athletes, it is a chance to test their skills at the pinnacle of their athletic careers against the best athletes in the world.  For the competing nations, it is a chance to showcase their athletes to the world and to rouse up national pride back home for a sport or an athlete that a country made have never heard of before the Olympic Games began.  This is where the media comes in and producers for the major cable networks that cover the Games have to decide what stories might draw interest to an audience that might not otherwise care about a particular sport or athlete.


Enter in the role of the human interest story.  This particular method of reporting has been the approach of choice over the past two decades and has given television networks, especially here in the United States, a way to highlight athletes and to give them the “common man” appeal.  Because, you see, it’s not simply enough to be the best in the world at a particular sport.  You also must have a story to tell in order to make yourself interesting.  At some point, you must have lost a mentor.  At some point, you must have had to overcome adversity.  At some point, you must have considered quitting the sport.  At some point, you must have thought all was lost until some how, some way you realized that this was your one chance for glory.


Sound familiar?


Of course it does.  NBC has carried every Summer Olympics since 1992 and every Winter Olympics since 2002.  They know they have a winning formula for human interest stories.  As cliched as it may be, NBC knows that if a viewer knows an athlete’s background and personal story then they will be much more likely to watch the athlete compete should he or she get to the finals of his or her discipline.  It’s gotten to the point where you can almost predict the human interest pieces ahead of time.  An unproven youngster going against the veterans.  A veteran trying to finally break through on the world stage.  An athlete in the twilight of his or her career trying to go out on top.  Personal drama, injuries, and family issues are all fair game.  Whatever helps NBC sell its athletes is what the network will do in order to get additional viewers to help the network’s ratings.


However, there are times where NBC goes too far.  On Sunday, we saw one of those times.


American skier Bode Miller, competing in his final Olympic Games, ended up tying for bronze in the men’s super-G race.  The medal gave Miller six total medals spread out over three Olympic Games and moved him into second place all-time for American alpine athletes.  The time leading up to the Games had been difficult for Miller as he had been recovering from a left knee injury, had been involved in a nasty custody battle over his son, and had lost his brother, Chelone, who died from a seizure last April.  Chelone was a snowboarder and was hoping to make his very first Olympic team.


After the race, Miller was interviewed by NBC correspondent Christin Cooper.  Cooper asked Miller about his brother and Miller seemed to get emotional in his response.  However, Cooper continued to ask Miller about his brother and she mentioned how it seemed like Miller was motioning to the sky before his race.  It was at this point that Miller began to sob uncontrollably and he sank down on to his knees.  The interview ended and Miller’s wife, Morgan, came out to embrace him as he was still visibly emotional.


Despite the fact that Cooper had received criticism for her line of questioning, Miller harbored no ill will toward her.  Miller immediately defended Cooper via Twitter after the initial interview  A day later, Miller talked about the interview with Matt Lauer.  Miller responded to all the criticism of Cooper by saying:


“I have known Christin a long time, and she’s a sweetheart of a person.  I know she didn’t mean to push.  I don’t think she really anticipated what my reaction was going to be, and I think by the time she realized it, it was too late.  I don’t blame her at all.”


In this regard, Miller is correct.  It is not Cooper’s fault as she had no idea that Miller would react the way he did.  No, the real people at fault here are the producers at NBC and their incessant need to spoon feed human interest stories to the viewing public.  You know what’s an even better story than the tragic death of an athlete’s brother?  How about the fact that the athlete just became the second best alpine skier in American history?  How about the fact that this athlete just medaled in his third Olympic Games?  How about the fact that, at age 36, Bode Miller just won a medal in what will most likely be his last Olympic race?


If those stories themselves aren’t compelling enough for the NBC producers then maybe they should head on over to Hollywood and work on a screenplay there.  Because you don’t need to exploit an athlete’s personal tragedy in order to tell his or her story.  All you need to do is tell the simple truth about him or her and the viewers will respond accordingly.


In other words, the viewers are a lot smarter than you give them credit for.



6 Responses to "Emotional Response: How NBC Crossed the Line In Its Olympic Skiing Coverage"

  1. Cindy Rose   Tuesday, February 18th, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    My husband and I thought this was one of worst interviews ever done. Thoughtless and insensitive. Mr Miller was very kind in his comments toward the interviewer. If I was the interviewer I would have refused to ask these questions and handed in my microphone. No job is worth being thought of as “the idiot who asked Bodie Miller those horrible questions” for the rest of my life. Sometimes you need to know when to say “NO”.

  2. Donna   Tuesday, February 18th, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    I blame her. Having lost a brother myself, I could see Bode was breaking after the first mention. You can’t tell me that there wasn’t some producer in her ear telling her to keep asking him about it. I changed the channels it made me so mad.

  3. Bob Lastiri   Wednesday, February 19th, 2014 at 12:52 am

    I lost a daughter to cancer 9 years ago. This interview punched me right in the gut. That last question should never have happened. Any body who has half an ounce of brains could see that Bode Miller was right on the verge, the questions should have gone a different direction or the interview ended right there. The feelings have never gone away for me, I only know how to manage them now, this brought them back full force, for my own loss and for his.

  4. J.R. Bartron   Wednesday, February 19th, 2014 at 1:30 am

    Cristin Cooper, man, that was really low, even for Olympic media coverage. It’s getting to the point that as soon as they cue the loathsome, pathetic piano music presaging yet another “inspiring story of overcoming adversity,” I head for another channel.
    A new low. Shame on you Ms. Cooper, I shudder to think what would have happenedif someone had turned you loose with a microphone in Manhattan post 9/11.

  5. Bill Bohannan   Thursday, February 20th, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    The day that great achievement is not enough is indeed a sad day. It was hard watching the shameless way that the dignity of this man was trampled under foot for the sake of a better story. When celebrity reacts appropriately to this kind open invasion of privacy we call them villains. He should have gone Alec Baldwin on her. That would have drawn the loudest cheer of these games. Same on you blood sucking networks.

  6. Siobhan Wolf   Thursday, February 20th, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    That Bode Miller doesn’t blame the reporter speaks to his class as well as whatever pre-existing relationship they might have had. I watched the interview with my two daughters, ages 14 and 10, and they both commented, without my prompting, that they felt bad for Miller and that the reporter should have left him alone. I was quite proud of my girls, seeing it for themselves and saying something about it. Both of them know loss, having lost their father 6 years ago.

    I completely agree with the conclusion here – viewers are smarter than given credit and NBC (and others) should hear that and respond accordingly.