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Pete Kaliner

What Bode Miller's tears tell us about journalism

 
What Bode Miller's tears tell us about journalism

When I was a reporter, I had to cover some horribly sad stories. And while some of my colleagues seemed to relish covering tragedy and other "human interest" stories, I did not.

It's not why I got into journalism.

I'd rely on a few simple questions for grieving family and friends: "What will you miss most?" and "What will you always remember?"

It was NEVER "How do you feel?"

I never thought it was my job to provoke emotions from the people I interviewed or the audience. Many of my former media colleagues don't see it the same way.

A lot of reporters believe it is not merely an added benefit to elicit emotional reactions, but that it's their duty to do so.

It's not enough to capture the moment. The reporter must induce it.

Yesterday, US skier Bode Miller won a bronze medal at the Olympics - becoming the oldest Alpine medalist in Olympic history. He's also now the second-most decorated male ski racer in history. He's also tied for second for the most Winter Olympics medals.

He actually tied for third place in the race yesterday. He beat the 4th place finisher by two hundredths of a second. And just before he took off down the slope, he said a prayer to his brother - who died this year:

"Right in the start gate, I was kinda like, ‘If you’re here with me’ – I know I bring a part of him with me everywhere I go – I said, ‘give me a couple hundredths today. Just, like, give me that little extra push.'"

A couple hundredths is exactly what he got.

After the race, the NBC reporter began asking him a series of questions about his dead brother, his emotions, and what it all means.

First --

"For a guy who says that medals don't really matter, that they aren't the thing, you've amassed quite a collection. What does this one mean to you in terms of all the others."

Then --

"Bode, you're showing so much emotion down here, what's going through your mind?"

Then --

"I know you wanted to be here with Chilly, really experiencing these games. How much does this mean to you to come up with this great performance for him? And was it for him?"

Finally --

 

"When you're looking up in the sky at the start, we see you there and it just looks like you're talking to somebody. What's going on there?"

 

At this point, Miller breaks down crying and walks off. The photographers are still following him, capturing every grief-stricken moment.

Somewhere, back in the editing bay or Master Control, someone who has never had to interview a complete stranger about the loss of a loved one is thinking, "Yes! Cry! This video is perfect!"

Keep in mind, this wasn't live.

This was all recorded earlier.

There was plenty of time for the editors and producers to back away from whoring out Miller's grief. But, this appeal to schadenfreude is the goal.

This is what the Olympics are all about now. This is what journalism is about. Trying to induce emotion. Trying to influence the story. Trying to MAKE the story.

And, unfortunately, there are too many people working in TV who share this goal.

You can see the interview on NBC's website here.

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