For those of you who missed it, NBC’s Christin Cooper had a post-race interview with Bode Miller in which she repeatedly pressed him on emotions related to the death of his brother last year. It wasn’t surprising that Cooper asked Miller about the death; it was, however, surprising that she continued to probe him about it after Miller was clearly overcome with emotion. The interview left Miller in tears, and the Internet flooded in rage toward Cooper.
Long gone are the days when the Olympics were simply about the medals we collected and the proud cheers of ‘U-S-A!’ heard loud through the stands thousands of miles away. With the integration of new media, we are able to connect ourselves to and follow the personal lives of athletes more closely. Today, the Olympics are in part about seeing the human side of the athletes we often idolize. And, in being human, they too have struggles, fears, and pain.
While Miller forgave and defended Cooper via Twitter, a retweet of his indicates that the blame might more appropriately be placed on NBC for pushing Cooper to press on. The case raises the question of, ‘How far is too far?’, and, at what cost are we willing to dig for these emotions, solely for the purpose of entertainment?
NBC attempted to do some damage control following the uproar from Cooper’s interview:
“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.”
For me, the story of Bode Miller having a difficult year and missing his brother was complete at the point in which he first started to struggle with words in the interview. The 75 seconds of post-interview material that NBC aired, solely consisting of Miller broken down in emotion, really didn’t add anything to the story. It did, however, cause many viewers to question NBC’s ethics.
Regardless of your opinion on whether NBC and Christin Cooper went too far, as an aspiring PR and media professional, I think that the case highlights some great lessons in the industry.
Every story has a purpose. And while stories continuously evolve, I think that it’s important to always keep the big picture in mind. This requires preparation for alternate outcomes, and anticipated audience reactions. Cooper and NBC’s purpose in prompting their questions was undoubtedly to stir up some emotion. They may not have intended for Miller to spew out so much grief, but when he did, perhaps they could have more seriously considered backing down and closing the interview by congratulating him on a great performance—he did, after all, just win a bronze medal.
The PR world is fast-paced and often changes before we have time to fully think through a next move. For that reason, it’s incredibly important for professionals in the industry to have character that oozes integrity and an understanding of the limits that their audiences place on them.
Christin Cooper may not have earned herself a gold medal in her interview with Bode Miller, but she did remind me of the standards that I have set for myself in my own work. As I move forward, I hope to maintain awareness of the big picture and of when I have reached my limit.
Halie Olszowy is a senior at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) studying sociology and business administration. As a Calypso spring intern, Halie focuses on social media strategy, industry research, and various PR and marketing team projects.