On January 17, the Oprah Winfrey Network will air a “no-holds-barred” interview of Lance Armstrong. This will not be the first time Oprah has interviewed Armstrong. It won’t even be the second. I’ve been able to count three previous interviews she has done with either Lance or his ex-wife, Kristin. This is a part of the transcript from an interview she conducted in 2005 as part of a show called “The Greatest“:
Oprah: Do you acknowledge for yourself that you are one of the greatest…ever?
Lance: It’s better that you say that, and I don’t say that. I’d rather just sit back and let the results speak for themselves, and smart people like you or whoever else can declare that.
Lance also spoke about performance-enhancing drug allegations that resurfaced after his most recent Tour de France win. “It’s a witch hunt. I’ve said that from the beginning, and it continues,” said Lance, “So, it’s not good, but you know what? I have to tell you, I mean, everybody in this country knows the truth.”
How do the accusations affect Lance?
“This time, without sounding hokey, it broke my heart. I mean, really made me sad.”
Oprah (now identifiable on Twitter as #DOPRAH) has been taking a lot of flak on the social media platform, ranging from accusations that she will be lobbing softballs at Armstrong to suggestions that she is so grossly uninformed about LA and the inner workings of professional bike racing that she will be unable to ask appropriate questions. Based on her long-standing and proven adulation of Armstrong, I am inclined to agree.
Despite the fact that I didn’t see it coming, if I had been savvy enough to look closely at the situation, I would have realized it was entirely predictable.
According to multiple sources, the interview, held at the Armstrong estate in Austin, has in fact already happened. It’s been taped. It’s in the can and being packaged for our digestion, or indigestion, as we speak. Apparently, the producers of the show are now realizing the skepticism of many who feel as though Winfrey is incapable of conducting an appropriate and unbiased interview, and they have thus started a preemptive campaign of damage control by emphasizing that Armstrong was not financially compensated for the interview, he will possess no editorial control, and no questions are off-limits. Of this, I really do not question Winfrey or her producers. There is no need to edit answers or questions if they are banal and scripted enough.
Whatever Armstrong chose to say was already predetermined, obviously. But in which direction did he choose to take his story at this juncture? There are only three options as I see it.
Option #1: Continued denial of everything. We will hear the same arguments repackaged in a fashion to try to secure sympathy from his support base. He has been the victim of an unjust system, and he only wants to raise his kids and fight cancer. The only reason I don’t think he will go this route now is because the interview air time is slated to be 90 minutes long. His denial arguments are so old and poorly constructed that it would be impossible to fill 90 minutes with them.
Option #2: Admission with justification. He had to do what he did for reasons X, Y, and Z. This option actually gets my vote, and for this reason: The closest we have come to an Armstrong admission is this tweet he made about a blog post written by cycling photographer Graham Watson:
It took a “photographer” to “write” the most balanced piece we’ve seen yet. grahamwatson.com/view/viewmain.…
— Lance Armstrong (@lancearmstrong) January 2, 2013
Specifically, Watson writes this about Armstrong in the referenced blog post:
Lance did what he had to do to win, and he clearly did it very well. If he cheated, he cheated the other cheats of that era, even if by doing so he also cheated an adoring public. He didn’t kill anyone along the way, and as a father of five, he’s no child molester either.
Important to remember is that documenting Lance Armstrong’s dynasty was the most lucrative move Watson ever made in his career. (See Sally Jenkins.) In Armstrong’s tweet, he is essentially admitting to the actions and their justifications: Yeah, I did it. So fucking what? So did they. I don’t rape kids.
Incentives for doing this would be a reduction in his ban from competitive sport. Disincentives for this are all the pending law suits, him perjuring himself by contradicting former sworn testimony, and the potential for future actions against him.
Option #3: A full confessional with apologies and regret. If the man decides to take this route, it will truly be an Oscar-winning performance. Plus, he has wronged so many people over the course of this saga that I don’t think 90 minutes would even come close to being enough time to get through them all—at least not in any manner that would make it meaningful.
All of this aside, if you are also wondering what will be said and making predictions, you may want to play along with a little game that is making the rounds on Twitter called #BINGOSTRONG created by @aaronvsanchez. I’ve even provided you with your card here:
Is Winfrey qualified to handle this? The answer is obvious. But what did we expect? Was Lance really going to offer himself up to Paul Kimmage? To David Walsh? To Neal Browne? To Neal Rogers? To Juliet Macur? To Bonnie D. Ford? That would take balls…something which Armstrong is already in short supply of. As ever, he must control the story. And if Oprah Winfrey was worth her weight in salt (ahem), then she would have passed on this interview and told Lance’s people to contact one of the aforementioned cycling journalists who have already paid their dues by slogging through the reams of legal filings, affidavits, court orders, transcriptions of interviews, etc. and know a thing or two about this story. But expecting Winfrey to pass on this interview would be like expecting a bulldog to pass by a raw steak…or expecting that she would not have to appear on EVERY SINGLE COVER of her own magazine…or like expecting that Armstrong is capable of doing the right thing at this point.
Not coincidentally, CBSNews is airing a new show called “60 Minutes Sports” this evening on Showtime in which Travis Tygart is interviewed and speaks to Armstrong’s history of doping, intimidation, and an attempted $250,000 donation to USADA in 2004.
Over time, I’ve become quite obsessed with this story—probably too obsessed. January 17 is next Thursday night, and despite the near-certain scripted nature of Armstrong’s delivery and likely inadequate “interview” by Winfrey, I will be watching. Will you? Or are you a lot wiser than me and have moved on?
UPDATE 2:20 CST. Correction: I just learned from @RaceRadio that the interview is actually scheduled to be taped on Monday, January 14th. Thus – it’s not too late for her to get some recommendations for some questions….