It’s always a safe bet that American Olympic skier Bode Miller will make headlines. But an interview that went off the journalistic rails at this week’s Olympic Games in Sochi grabbed more attention than usual.
The drama unfolded following the men’s Super-G alpine skiing event, for which Miller had just won the bronze medal. NBC’s Christin Cooper asked Miller how the recent death of his younger brother was affecting the skier’s performance. And asked. And asked. And asked. To a point where Miller hung his head, dissolved into tears and walked away. The camera stayed on him well after he broke down.
Viewer backlash against Cooper was fierce. Criticism mounted after NBC made clear it didn’t mind capitalizing on the uncomfortable exchange. The taped segment could easily have been edited, but the network chose to show it in full.
As bad as the interview made NBC look, it may have been a PR plus for Miller. Skiing’s bad boy has been undergoing an image rehab since the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, when he blamed his mediocre performance on being “wasted” and said he used the games “to party and socialize at an Olympic level.” A custody battle for a child he sired during a fling also inspired ire. This interview humanized him more effectively than any PR campaign could.
THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Christin Cooper’s Olympic-sized ambush.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Reporters shouldn’t become the story. Know basic tenets of PR, one of which is “There’s a time and place for everything.” Cooper obviously didn’t delve into NBC’s archives to watch Jim Gray’s 1999 interview of Pete Rose after he made the Baseball All-Century Team, which devolved as Gray relentlessly harped on Rose’s gambling past. Asking celebrities or athletes about personal issues isn’t off limits, but doing so at a celebration is bad form. Save the probing questions for the talk show couch.