UPDATE: 10:45 AM: NBC Olympics executive producer Jim Bell said this morning it would have been “irresponsible” of NBC had the network not asked U.S. Olympic skier Bode Miller questions about his dead brother, and U.S. skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace questions about a miscarriage she suffered a few years ago, during its coverage of the two athletes’ respective medal wins. Bell insisted he’d do the same if covering any other sport, but that it’s especially important with “Olympics particularly, because people don’t know these athletes…It’s a bigger responsibility to share” this personal information, he insisted, in order “to get viewers to connect with those athletes…and their sports.”
Bell said he understood the reaction to particularly the Miller interview, and the public’s tendency to “take to Twitter to vent a little about it.” In the interview, conducted after Bode’s bronze medal Super-G run on Sunday and run at length during NBC’s primetime coverage last night, Olympics reporter Christin Cooper asked him multiple questions about his brother, as Bode choked up, and only ended when Bode doubled over weeping, then walked away. Bode’s brother died in April of an apparent seizure that may have been connected to a motorcycle accident.
In a phone call with press this morning, Bell maintained that, the “storyline about Bode” had been set up on the network’s Olympics broadcast the night before the interview, and he “felt it was important to finish it up.” He noted Miller himself took to Twitter to defend Cooper and that Bode had come on NBC’s Today this morning to tell viewers he did not blame her for the questions. “He said he thought it was fine and he stood by her,” Bell said, adding that should “take some of the temperature down on” the kerfuffle over that interview and the interview Meredith Vieira did with Pikus-Pace in which she asked the athlete about a miscarriage she suffered a few years ago. Bell, who was on the phoner to talk about Bob Costas’ return to the air tonight — a subject that quickly got overshadowed by questions about the Miller and Pikus-Pace interviews — said “the way it played out was fine.”
In a statement about the Bode interview issued after Bode appeared on Today show, NBC said: “Our intent was to convey the emotion that Bode Miller was feeling after winning his bronze medal. 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. We’re gratified that Bode has been publicly supportive of Christin Cooper and the overall interview.”
PREVIOUS, 6:10 AM: NBC This morning asked Bode Miller, in so many words, to come to the defense of its Olympics reporter Christin Cooper, who has been under fire since she caused Olympic skier to double over and weep, with repeated questions about his brother’s death during an interview. (Watch after the jump).
Cooper has taken a lot of heat for going way too far in that interview she did with Miller after he won a bronze medal in the men’s Super-G ski race Sunday. Cooper became a Twitter trending topic – and not in a good way — almost immediately after it aired in full during NBC’s primetime coverage of the interview. “We’re not done until you sob, Bode!” said one tweeter, pretending to be an NBC Sports exec.
This morning, on Today, Matt Lauer set things up: “We saw a very emotional side of you Bode after the race, not only in a tweet you sent out, but also in that interview that’s getting a lot of attention. And the interviewer is getting a lot of attention too. Christin Cooper is being criticized by some for pushing too far on questions about the death of your brother. I just would like your take on that.”
“I’ve known Cristin a long time. She’s a sweetheart of a person. I know she didn’t mean to push,” Miller responded. “I don’t think she really anticipated what my reaction was going to be, and I think by the time she sort of realized, it was too late. I don’t blame her at all. I feel terrible that she’s taking the heat for that because it really — it was just a heat of the moment kind of circumstance,” Miller said, adding, ” I don’t think there was any harm intended. It was just a lot of emotion for me. It’s been a lot over the the last year…you sometimes don’t realize how much you contain that stuff until the dam breaks and then it’s just a real outpouring.”
It was Miller who had brought up his brother when Cooper first asked him what winning the bronze meant to him.
But Cooper took the cue and ran with it, asking, “Bode, you’re showing so much emotion down here. What’s going through your mind?” Later she asked, “I know you wanted to be here, with [brother] Chilly, really experiencing these games and how much does it mean for you to come up with a great performance for him and was it for him?”
Even then, Cooper wasn’t finished, asking Miller, “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?’
At that point, Miller doubled over and wept. Cooper could be heard whispering she was sorry and put her hand on Miller’s shoulder. Miller walked away. Later he tweeted his thanks for fans support adding “today was one of the most emotional days of my life. I miss my brother.”
NBC is showcasing the interview video on its web site, with this write-up: “After a turbulent year, Bode Miller has become the oldest medalist in Olympic alpine history and spoke with NBC’s Christin Cooper after his run. When asked about his recently deceased brother, Bode shows so much emotion and eventually breaks down, walks away from the interview and into the comforting arms of his wife, Morgan.”
It’s not the first time NBC has been chastized during the Sochi Games for probing athletes’ personal wounds to score with viewers. The network has a long tradition of discussing the personal challenges and tragedies of American Olympians, in features and during victory-lap interviews, as a way to getting viewers more invested in those athletes. Last Friday, Meredith Vieira, filling in for Bob Costas, asked American skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace about a miscarriage she suffered a few years ago. Pikus-Pace had retired after the Vancouver Games in 2010 to focus on her family, we learned, but changed her mind and came back to the competition in time for Sochi, where she won a silver medal. NBC Sports also has been criticized for asking American Olympian Katie Uhlaender, right after she missed securing a bronze medal by just 4/100ths of a second, how her father would have felt watching her performance. Her father died a few years back. Uhlaender began to tear up.
Watch NBC’s Cooper interview Bode here: