SPIRO: Oprah and Lance get the feel-good interview they wanted

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Lance Armstrong: The Oprah Interview (Image: Supplied)

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The first part of the Oprah Winfrey interview with Lance Armstrong has provided the inevitable outcome.

Winfrey gets the redemption type of interview for which she is famous (or infamous if she is seen in the context of trying to be a reporter).

Lance Armstrong gets to acknowledge that he was a drug cheat while keeping to a minimum any revelations that might be used against him in the inevitable court cases that are going to flow from his scandalous behaviour, on and off the competitive cycling arena.

This is why people, or celebrities with back stories that are inglorious to say the least, are very happy to ‘open up’ to Oprah.

She is not about getting the facts. She is all about getting the emotions. The most frequent phrase prefacing her questions was: ‘How did you feel …’

This is one of the most useless interrogative questions ever devised. There is nothing factual about its thrust.

It is designed to force a jumping on the couch moment, or to give the interviewed celebrity a chance to emote expansively and impress Oprah’s huge fan base who are into inner healing and redemption by words rather than deeds.

The interview started with a brisk Oprah asking about six or seven questions relating to whether Armstrong used the various illegal drug and doping techniques that he has previously denied.

Tellingly, Oprah required Armstrong to answer Yes or No only to each of these questions. He answered Yes to all of them.

But having got Armstrong’s concession that he was a doped up champion on his seven Tour de France victories, Oprah then went into Oprah mode and began the ‘How did you feel …?’ routine.

Armstrong was allowed to deny that he was doped up in the 2009 and 2010 Tour de France events, despite the fact that tests suggested that there was only a one in a million chances that he wasn’t.

Betsy Andreu, the feisty wife of Armstrong’s former team-mate Frankie Andreu, testified that in 1996 Armstrong told doctors treating his cancer that he had been ingesting performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong, according to Andreu, told them he’d used doping agents. Armstrong called her testimony ‘vindictive, bitter, vengeful and jealous.’

Andreu told ESPN a couple of days ago: ‘I would like for him to come out and admit the hospital incident did happen.’

Armstrong was allowed by Oprah to deny by avoidance that the hospital incident did happen. He wasn’t asked why Andreu would make such an incident up. And in the light of his (Armstrong’s) confession that he was a serial dope-taker that he should acknowledge that the incident wasn’t an invention.

And worse than this, Oprah allowed Armstrong to justify his smearing reaction to Andreu’s accusation by insisting that he never called her ‘fat.’

During the various Rugby World Cup tournaments I have come across the Sunday Times chief sportswriter, David Walsh. He is an outstanding sports writer, one of the best in the world. Walsh has written extensively about Armstrong as a doped up cyclist. Armstrong successfully sued his paper and was awarded $500,000.

The Sunday Times is now in the process of trying to reclaim these damages payouts. I hope (and I should state that, in theory, I am opposed to the use of defamation as a way of punishing people for what they have said or have written) that Walsh, aided by the deep pockets of The Sunday Times, then take an action against Armstrong for malicious defamation.

The point about Armstrong is that he has almost destroyed a great sport by his doping tactics during his Tour de France triumphs. If a champion dopes he forces everyone who wants to be a champion to dope.

And the bullying tactics adopted by Armstrong to silence critics have worked to validated this doped-up approach to winning.

Armstrong’s tactics made covering cycling with integrity almost impossible. Few journalists or even newspapers these days have the financial resources to counter a cashed-up celebrity/hero intent on destroying their careers if they tried to go too deeply into the reasons why that hero was a seven times Tour de France champion.

The test of Armstrong’s newly-found disgust of his bullying and cheating behaviour will come when or if he is prepared to face journalists with a modicum of reporting integrity. Armstrong needs to reveal the facts of his behaviour and not some confected inner feelings of supposed guilt.

He can start paying journalists like David Walsh a monetary compensation of at least double what he brazenly took from The Sunday Times, together with whatever token apology he care to make.

This is a case where money – Armstrong’s money – will speak more loudly than any Oprah contrived confession.

Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.
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