Five-ring Circus

The Olympics Rage-o-Meter

NBC makes Bode Miller cry, then presses on (and on and on) to make him cry some more.

Bode Miller’s emotional response to winning bronze in the Super-G on Sunday.

Photo by Alexander Klein/AFP/Getty Images

On Sunday in Sochi, one of NBC’s preordained Winter Olympics stars finally came through with a medal, as Bode Miller tied for bronze in the men’s super-G. Prior to Miller’s run, the Peacock screened a weepy feature on the death of Miller’s snowboarder brother Chelone. After he skied down the mountain, NBC’s cameras zoomed in on Miller and his wife Morgan for a solid hour as they watched other skiers challenge his time. When Miller hung on to his podium position, NBC’s Christin Cooper asked him about his “extraordinary accomplishment” and what this particular medal—his sixth in Olympic competition—meant to him. Miller mentioned his brother’s death, and how he wanted to honor his memory.

This was NBC’s cue to zoom in painfully close to Miller’s face, and for Cooper to say, “Bode, you’re showing so much emotion down here, what’s going through your mind?” After Miller said it had been a “tough year,” Cooper pressed on with two more questions about his brother. At this point, an attorney might have shouted, “Asked and answered!” But the camera kept on zooming in as Miller eventually bowed his head, unable to continue with the interview.

Why are we angry? For all the grief the Peacock takes for rolling out Olympic sob story after Olympic sob story, it’s undeniable that viewers get something out of these features. NBC’s feature on Alex Bilodeau and his brother Frederic, for instance, taught us something important about the Canadian freestyle skier while also reducing us “to a watery heap of melting snow and brotherly devotion,” in the words of my colleague Jessica Winter.

In this case, however, NBC was exploiting Miller’s personal pain so transparently that viewers recoiled. While Miller was being reduced to a watery heap of melting snow, the rest of us formed a rage avalanche.

How angry are we? Very. In this case, the populist furor on Twitter was matched by disbelief from journalists. The New York Times’ Richard Sandomir wrote, “If you’ve made a medal winner cry, it is time to simply say ‘thank you’ and move on.” Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky argued, “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.”

How angry should we be? Miller himself says he’s not mad at Christin Cooper, who he’s had a relationship with for more than a decade, and that his fans shouldn’t be either.

Nathaniel Vinton also wrote an interesting column for the New York Daily News arguing that Cooper did a perfectly fine job. Vinton notes that Miller “has spent at least 16 years standing before cameras almost every day, all winter long” and that he “has been steadily more willing to show vulnerability before the media—especially for familiar folks like Cooper.”

But I believe that Vinton’s piece misunderstands the complaint against Cooper and NBC. Nobody is begrudging Cooper the content of her questions—after all, it was Miller who brought up his brother. It was her persistence even after the ski racer had answered her questions, digging that seemed designed to elicit an emotional response rather than information or insight. The camera, too, zoomed in so close to Miller’s face that it was clear what NBC wanted us to focus on: his tear ducts, not his words. Anyone—and that includes Bode Miller—who thinks that Cooper and NBC didn’t do anything wrong here has set a ridiculously low bar for the Peacock.

Rage-o-Meter Score: A five out of six for the Peacock on Sunday night, a roasting the likes of which we haven’t seen since the opening ceremony.

Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer

Previous Rage-o-Meter entries:

Monday, Feb. 10: Butchering the opening ceremony.
Tuesday, Feb. 11: NBC’s snowboarding coverage is terrible. We want more of it!
Wednesday, Feb. 12: Matt Lauer steps in for Bob Costas. NBC viewers did not like his beard.
Thursday, Feb. 13: An NBC announcer notes that women skiers wear “a little bit of makeup.”
Friday, Feb. 14: The Peacock pretends to be shocked by Evgeni Plushenko’s abrupt figure skating departure.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Sochi Olympics.