Below is an op-ed written by Red Banyan Group Founder Evan Nierman on NBC’s controversial interview with Bode Miller this weekend.
Once, Twice, Three Times Not a Lady
Much talk has swirled around the recent NBC interview with Olympian Bode Miller that left him in tears and unable to continue. Here’s an assessment from the perspective of a public relations practitioner often called upon to guide clients through interviews.
There is nothing inherently wrong with asking probing questions during an interview. It’s the hallmark of good reporting. However, in her slope-side conversation with American skier Bode Miller NBC’s Christin Jacobs crossed the line. She was insensitive, pushing the interview out of the realm of intense and into the arena of distasteful.
During his answer to a question asking what his bronze medal performance meant to him, Miller is the one who brought his recently deceased brother into the conversation. The reporter followed up on the thread, but in so doing seized on the topic and didn’t know when to let it go.
A follow-up question that left him pausing to collect himself should have been the end of it. Tears rolling down his cheeks should have been the signal that the interview was veering into the danger zone.
Yet, once, twice, three times the deeply personal questions oriented to his deceased sibling rained down on Miller, ultimately prompting him to hang his head, unable to continue, before crumpling to his knees.
Finally displaying some emotion, the reporter whispered an apology and placed her hand on his shoulder. But it was too little too late–the damage was already done.
And the cameras stayed focused on Miller the entire time, even when he and the interview fell apart. This scene was disquieting. It was awkward. And it should not have happened.
In their attempts to “report the story,” and with help from the white hot lights of the camera, many journalists forget that the subjects of their interview aren’t actually “subjects”–they are people. People with emotions. People whose lives can be significantly impacted by what is broadcast on T.V., especially when beamed into the homes of tens of millions of people.
For his part, Miller showed he was a class act. In the hours that followed, after social media erupted in an uproar over the reporter’s behavior, he actually took to Twitter to defend his questioner. Asked later in an interview, he reiterated that he did not believe that she had ill intent.
Hopefully this interview will serve as a warning to other journalists who sometimes seem to forget that their actions have consequences. It is also a reminder to all of us that behind every news story are actual lives and real people with feelings. They deserve to be treated with respect and left with some measure of dignity intact once the fifteen seconds are over and the daily dose of news has been gathered.