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Joe Henderson

Henderson: Uncomfortable NBC interview a step too far

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Published:   |   Updated: February 18, 2014 at 09:00 AM

Tears are golden.

I remember that from the days when we at the Tribune regularly shared stories and resources with News Channel 8. One of the editors there shared that basic truth of television reporting. Any story where the subject cries is a sure-fire ratings winner.

Crying conveys emotion.

Emotion makes good television.

For the rest of us, though, sometimes it just makes you sick. NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympic Games on Sunday night was one of those times.

Anyone in the media business understands that asking uncomfortable questions is part of the job. The Olympics is different, though. The games are equal parts celebration, fantasy and escape, and that's just how people like it.

NBC generally plays along and emphasizes stories of triumph, comeback and determination. It's a winning formula. Maybe that's why condemnation was so swift when things got a little too emotional this time.

Even if you weren't watching the telecast, you probably know by now that NBC interviewer Christin Cooper pushed a little too hard to peel back skier Bode Miller's emotions after he won bronze in the Super-G event.

He is struggling to process the death last year of his younger brother, Chelone. Miller has also been open about his grief and wanting to honor his brother's memory by skiing well. Since interviews on that level usually don't leave much to chance, I'm sure Miller understood that he would be asked on camera about his brother.

I'm also sure Cooper had a list of prepared questions, possibly fed to her by a producer. It would have been fine if she had stopped after two questions about Miller's brother, but she didn't.

“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?” she asked.

Miller answered with sobs.

It was as raw as it was honest, So, that's good television, right?

A lot of people didn't think so and excoriated Cooper and her network for pushing too hard. Watching at home, my first thought was that she should have used better judgment. It wasn't necessary to reduce Miller to tears to understand the emotion of the moment.

People on social media seemed convinced she deliberately badgered him. I don't think that's true, but I'll also bet the boys in the production truck saw ratings points in every drop that fell from Miller's eyes.

Let's not restrict the criticism to the person asking the questions, though.

Because of the time difference between here and Sochi, NBC editors had several hours to soften the interview by taking out Miller's breakdown if they thought it was too sensitive. That assumes, though, producers were worried about public reaction.

They weren't.

I'll even bet Cooper was showered with praise by her bosses for getting such a reaction from Miller.

Interestingly, Miller quickly defended Cooper, using social media and other outlets to say he was OK with her line of questioning. He said critics should “be gentle” with Cooper and that she was just doing her job.

That was decent of him to say. It would have been even more decent, though, for NBC to show a little discretion and restraint. But, hey, this is the Olympics and you've got to go for the gold.

When it comes to television, tears are golden.

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