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NBC post-race interview with skier Bode Miller raises questions of media best practices

After claiming an Olympic bronze medal in Sunday’s super-G event, U.S. skier Bode Miller’s victory was quickly overshadowed by his post-race interview with NBC reporter Christin Cooper.

Miller, who had lost his brother, Chelone, to a seizure in 2013, mentioned his sibling during the interview, stating that this medal was “different” after a tough year. The controversy came after Cooper asked several follow-up questions concerning Chelone, with Miller becoming visibly more emotional until he broke down crying, eventually leaving the interview.

Cooper and NBC, who hold the broadcast rights to the Sochi Olympics came under quick fire. NBC, who aired the interview on a 20-hour tape delay for its prime-time broadcast, faced criticism for not only the line of questions, but for airing the interview at all.

Amid the backlash against NBC and the widespread support for Miller, the skier took to Twitter to defend Cooper:

In a statement, NBC defended the decision concerning the 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.”

The controversy raises the question whether the interview was a case of bad media ethics with Christin’s persistent questioning. New York Times columnist Richard Sandomir said that though Cooper’s first question was a “relevant area to pursue” since Miller mentioned his brother first, it should have been the last question that should have been asked about him.

“Emotion is a real and honest element of athletic triumph and defeat,” Sandomir wrote. “And you don’t want a network to tell its journalists to stick to soft questions when interviewing the winners. But in this instance, Cooper and NBC lacked the sensitivity to know when enough was enough.”

Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark, however, suggested that the interview was a learning tool for journalists in a different way. If the questions had been phrased differently, Clark said, Cooper could have allowed Miller to “go as far down the emotional path as he wanted to.” Clark posited that an interview is “stepping over the line when the public’s attention turns away from what the subject is saying and turns toward what the interviewer is saying.”

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