By Alan Pergament
My Olympic journal:
I woke up Monday morning and hadn't seen The Bode Miller interview that blew up Twitter and other social networks the night before.
So I went online, found it and was shocked.
Not really by anything that NBC's skiing reporter Christin Cooper did in her interview with Miller after he won a bronze medal.
I realize it is a minority view -- I read Twitter and have seen the polls overwhelmingly blasting NBC and Cooper -- but I was shocked that her line of questioning became controversial when Miller cried as she pursued the impact that his brother's death almost a year ago had on his race and his feelings about the medal.
I remembered Cooper's name from her own Olympic skiing career and suspected that she knew Bode well since he has been around the Olympics longer than Bob Costas.
She was off-camera and we never saw her facial expressions. But her gentle tone made her seem super sensitive to Miller's feelings after he was the one who brought up his brother's death. She tried to get Miller to open up more, asking the same question in different ways before he broke down and moved away.
Since the Olympics have lived off sob stories for decades, I didn't think this interview was very much different than many in the past.
I thought Cooper just was the victim of viewers' misunderstanding of her role and the difficulties of making instant decisions on her job.
Did she ask one too many questions about Bode's brother?
Perhaps. The Twitterverse certainly found her guilty. Some of my media colleagues also thought she gave the profession a bad name.
But she may have known Miller so well that she didn't expect his uncharacteristic reaction. He as much as said that in defending her on Monday.
The whole scene reminded me of two recent interviews with emotional athletes.
First, it made me think of a post-game interview that Chicago Blackhawk star Patrick Kane had the night that he learned of his beloved grandfather's death. Then it made me think of the post-game interview that Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman had after making a game-saving play that sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl.
Kane had a big game the night his grandfather died and broke down at the first question asked of him about a grandfather who meant so much to him. A few days later, he missed a game to come to South Buffalo for the wake (with some Blackhawks officials coming with him) and to be a pallbearer at the funeral.
The questioner clearly had to expect some tears from Kane and they instantly arrived. It was a very moving moment. The next question was about a play in the game.
The abruptness of switching from asking Kane about the death of someone he loved to asking about a goal he was a part of seemed callous and out of place. I felt embarrassed for the reporter, who appeared to be auditioning for a "Saturday Night Live" bit about media cluelessness.
It would have been far worse for Cooper, too, if she went from asking Miller about his brother to asking him about his bronze medal run.
He brought the brother's death up so it was only natural for Cooper to pursue it. I also don't blame NBC for running the taped interview in its entirety several hours after it was conducted and it had a chance to edit it. It would have dishonest to edit it just to protect Cooper and itself from a potential controversy.
Miller doesn't need protection. The interview actually has helped his image. If you go on any social network, a part of his private life was raised during the Olympics in one controversial post unfairly suggesting that people should root against him.
Cooper surely knows about his private life and didn’t go there, even though Miller opened the door with his comment that it was a tough year. For all we know, his tears were as much about the child custody battle that is the focus of the controversial post as they were about his brother.
Bode's defense of Cooper also should help his image. It made him seem like the kind of good guy you should root for.
The Miller interview was reminiscent of Richard Sherman's interview because Cooper almost instantly put a microphone in Bode's face. Like Sherman, Miller's emotions were raw. He hadn't had time to wind down. It is possible that he was even surprised by his own tears.
Emotional moments like Bode's, Kane's and Sherman's are what television is looking for and shouldn't shock viewers. Viewers should expect them.
You shouldn't cry foul for the athletes who apparently know very well how this media game is played far better than many viewers do.
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