The unattributed leak hinting that Lance Armstrong is planning to admit to his doping escapades in an exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey on January 21 is a high-concept stunt. Both of these celebs (who are pals, by the way—check out this shared guacamole recipe) have suffered declining ratings, so what’s better for burnishing your star than a good old-fashioned exposé?
Let the hype begin! To get the ball rolling, you arrange for Lance to do lunch with USADA officials—no press release (that would just be tacky), but the media will somehow “find out” about it and draw the obvious conclusion: a strategically timed 60 Minutes Sports segment suggested that the principals were exploring a possible “pathway to redemption.” More likely, they were discussing the relative merits of the seared sockeye.
Then you’ll leak the non-story linking this tête-à-tête and Lance’s determination to come clean with Oprah to some tabloid (ahem, USA Today) through an anonymous source (“a person with knowledge of the situation”). Mainstream and social media will be all over it like white on rice; otherwise respectable news reporters will gladly become your unpaid PR flacks. Indeed, journalists will be afraid not to run with the dubious (though titillating) story, just in case it turns out to be true; they can’t bear the thought of being scooped. They take the bait, great. Now let Lance set the hook; when queried by the AP, Armstrong coyly texts, “I told her [Oprah] to go wherever she wants and I’ll answer the questions directly, honestly, candidly. That’s all I can say.” In due course, the story that isn’t gets plastered all over the media. Well played, Team Armstrong.
The saga has morphed from specious rumor to done deal: “Lance to Admit Doping in Oprah Interview.” That was NPR’s lede today; it should certainly guarantee a huge viewership. The AP, the New York Times, NPR and all the rest should be ashamed of themselves for being duped into rushing into reporting news before it happens.
Tension builds: will he or won’t he? Pundits posit. Nate Silver runs the numbers. Wagers are placed.
It’s not Lance’s moral turpitude that concerns me—his mortal soul is his business. And as faithful groupies and defenders stridently insist, Lance wasn’t the only cyclist on the Tour who was juicin’, so cut the poor boyo some slack, woncha? That’s true, of course, but many of his colleagues have come forward and admitted their malfeasance before God and country, opting to be part of the solution while Lance seems determined to be the poster child for the problem. Few other professional cyclists abused the trust of so many along the road to fame and fortune. And few are worth $100 million in the wake of so much cheating, so much deceit. Who says crime doesn’t pay?
I had a hunch that one way or another Armstrong would find a way to get our attention; he needs the limelight like you and I need oxygen. Lance is an opportunist—a very hardworking one, I’ll grant you—but an opportunist, all the same. He’s a classic power and control junkie; Lance craves the adulation even more than the money. He wasn’t kidding when he sagely pronounced, “It’s not about the bike.” Nope. It’s all about the Lance.
Personally, I won’t be watching—I don’t own a TV. That’s OK, he’ll tweet about it after the fact (gotta wring every ounce out of it). As a dedicated roadie and previous Armstrong fan, I am interested to know if Lance has the intestinal fortitude to do the right thing, even if he does it for the all the wrong reasons (like copping a plea to avoid prosecution and shorten his cycling suspension). Spoiler: He doesn’t and he won’t.
On the off chance that I’m wrong and Oprah brings in the Big Guns (Dr. Phil, a “mystery guest,” and some very cute, but disappointed children) to coerce Lance to ’fess up in the best prime-time confessional form, there will be tears. Like all good con men, Lance is a master manipulator; his timing is exquisite and he knows just which buttons to push: his dysfunctional childhood, his failed marriage, his courageous battle with cancer. Despite it all, he beat the odds and rode to glory—a true champion! He is Lance Armstrong, All-American Boy, and he needs your forgiveness to secure his redemption.
I’m thinkin’ maybe his people should have partnered with Geraldo Rivera, the prince of smarm-o-vision for this tell-all. Geraldo would have cranked up the seismic sensationalism of the event to eleven (attracting more viewers, which in turn translates into more dollars—a language Armstrong speaks fluently). But then there’s always the possibility that like Al Capone’s vault, Lance’s confession will prove to be nothing more than an empty hole…
Aden Nichols is an independent editor and writer. He is available for print and digital projects: books (academic, narrative/creative nonfiction, memoir, speculative/alternate history, etc.), websites/social media, and business communications. Visit his website (www.LittleFireEditorial.com) or email him at: Aden@LittleFireEditorial.com.(Frowning Lance: Reuters)