The interview Cooper conducted, then, wasn’t fantastic—but it wasn’t offensive, either. As she tried to hint at him to talk more about his brother, Cooper’s follow-up question about him pointing to the sky was her best: It was specific to the race but allowed him to elaborate in different directions. Perhaps he believes his brother is in heaven? Or was he asking a higher power for strength? By the way, is he spiritual or religious, maybe? Who knows where the interview could’ve gone, what motivations could’ve been on display. She asked broad questions about it—like “What’s going on there?”—that would allow him to steer the interview away from his brother.
Journalist Christine Scheller, a personal friend of mine, has written publicly about her son’s suicide, and she told me she felt Cooper could have stopped sooner, though the interview was in context of an Olympic coverage tradition of “humanizing with melodrama.”
“There is no way it could have been an ordinary sporting day for him in a year of firsts after tragedy,” Scheller said. “To not report that would have been a fail; plus, he opened the door.” By bringing up his brother’s death, Miller allowed her to follow up. It’s also important to note that Miller was crying before Cooper began interviewing him—she didn’t lead him to tears.
A little context could also help put Miller’s relationship with the media into perspective. This is not the first time Miller has been the center of attention after an especially raw interview. Miller apologized for comments made during 60 Minutes in January 2006, when he described the act of skiing as like being "wasted" and compared it to driving while intoxicated.
There has been a visible shift in how fans and media have treated Miller even since the last Olympics. The reporters who covered skiing hated him at the time, as John Canzano wrote for The Oregonian in 2010. “They think Bode Miller is arrogant, unapologetic and intentionally difficult,” he wrote. “They think he parties too much, and brags too much, and when they ask Miller a question he's prone to respond without regard to consequence.”
However, Canzano wrote that he was rooting for the guy, that Miller was different from other athletes. “And it doesn't bother me a bit that Miller won't consent to the mundane pitch-and-catch interviews that the media here prefers,” he wrote. “And I don't need him to be anything other than authentic.” This week, the media once again got “authentic” from Bode Miller.
It’s also important to note that Cooper has had a previous relationship with Miller, as Nathaniel Vinton writes for The Daily News. She built his trust over time, and that showed in his display of raw emotion. "I've known Christin a long time. She's a sweetheart of a person. I know she didn't mean to push," he said to Matt Lauer on Today. "I don't blame her at all."
No doubt, some reporters just want a good story, regardless of the cost. But many journalists simply look for opportunities to tell other people’s stories, regardless of the discomfort they, too, may feel during an interview. The pain of grief is real, as illustrated by Miller's unexpected breakdown, and the interview told a story about the pain humans—even Olympians—feel when confronting death.
If consumers complaints get loud enough, they may one day drive the Olympics to feel even more scripted than it already does, with mostly canned questions and answers from reporter to athlete. If fans really want to see the humanization of Olympians during the Olympics, they must be ready for raw emotion, whether it’s Ashley Wagner’s jaw drop or Bode Miller’s breakdown—even when it makes them uncomfortable.