After winning bronze in the men's super-G, Bode Miller gave a post-race interview to NBC's Christin Cooper. She asked him about his brother, who passed away suddenly last year. He struggled through an answer. She asked him again. He began to break down, a single tear running down his cheek. She asked him again.
There is already a huge backlash against Cooper, a former downhill skier herself, for what's been perceived as her callous interrogation of Miller. Too much, too far—especially continuing to rephrase the same question after Miller had mentioned his brother multiple times.
Cooper: For a guy who said the medals don't really matter, they aren't "the thing," you've amassed quite a collection. What does this one mean to you in terms of all the others?
Miller: This was a little different. With my brother passing away, I really wanted to come back here and race the way he sends it. So this was a little different.
Cooper: Bode, you're showing so much emotion down here. What's going through your mind?
Miller: A lot, obviously. Just a long struggle coming in here. Just a tough year.
Cooper: I know you wanted to be here with Chelly 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 if it's really for him. But I wanted to come here and...I don't know, I guess make myself proud.
Cooper: When you're looking up in the sky at the start, we see you there and it looks like you're talking to somebody. What's going on there?
(Miller's brother, Chelone, died last April at age 29 of a suspected seizure, eight years after a dirt bike crash that left him with brain injuries.)
When he woke up this morning, Miller took to Twitter to defend Cooper.
Cooper (like Miller) is just a tiny cog in the NBC machine. Cooper was fed her questions by producers, or at the very least instructed to get Miller to talk about his brother. The interview was tape-delayed, meaning directors made the conscious choice to present it as-is. But bigger than all of that is the institutional tearjerking that NBC Olympic coverage has become.
The super-G coverage began with a segment hosted by Tom Brokaw, focusing on Miller's turbulent last 12 months—his marriage and the death of his brother. His wife was wearing a microphone during the competition, ensuring that win or lose, viewers would already have an emotional investment in him. And finally, Cooper's interview, designed to bookend the storyline created by the production, and not necessarily by reality.
These are the Oprahlympics, a concept pioneered and perfected by NBC over the decades. Teary, sepia-toned sentimentality straight out of screenwriting 101. Competition isn't nearly enough. We must see our Olympians vulnerable, emotional, and raw, but never complex. The perceived hounding of Bode Miller is the natural outcome of a mindset that prizes paint-by-numbers melodrama over the inherent tension of the Games.
Any one of Miller's many storylines should have been sufficient. At 36, he's become a respected figure in a sport that once considered him its bad boy. He overcame injury and a year off to take a run at his fifth Olympics, and barely qualified. He made his way to the podium, becoming alpine skiing's oldest medalist ever, in his very last Olympic race. He is a television dream, but in NBC's eyes, his role from start to finish was reduced to "American skiing for his dead brother."
There is criticism here, and it's not for Cooper. It's for the cottage industry that Olympic pathos has become. Bode Miller might be the most interesting man at these games, but to NBC, he's not ratings gold until he sheds primetime tears in extreme close-up.