Oprah and Lance Armstrong: Tim’s initial thoughts

Oprah Winfrey Lance Armstrong interviewApparently there was a cycling-related TV interview on last night – who knew? – and judging from my Twitter feed this morning it certainly fuelled vigorous debate on both sides of the Atlantic.

Anyhow, I’ve been reviewing the first part of Oprah’s Lance Armstrong interview this morning. Here’s my gut-reaction analysis.

1. A ‘tell-some’ interview

This was never going to be a full-on tell-all confessional but equally Armstrong had to say something. So we got a ‘tell-some’ affair – more than many expected, not as much as hoped for. Did we find out anything new? Not really, although it was nice to have the existence – but not the identity – of ‘Motoman’ confirmed.

2. Admission does not equal apology

Armstrong admitted a fair amount, but when it came to apologies he was evasive, barely acknowledging whistle-blower Emma O’Reilly. Betsy Andreu? He merely said he never called her fat. Her immediate reaction on CNN says it all. Hell hath no fury …

3. Nice try, Oprah

Oprah had done her homework, and her use of direct yes/no questions up front to tease out the key admission that Armstrong used EPO and blood doping during his seven Tour wins was particularly effective. Did she ask all the right questions? Pretty much. But did she ask all the right follow-up questions? No. Several times she backed Lance on to the ropes and didn’t press home the advantage. Ultimately this wasn’t Sixty Minutes or a court of law. There is a reason Armstrong has avoided both.

4. PR 101

The first 15 minutes set the agenda and dictated headlines around the world with soundbites such as “I’m a flawed character” and “I didn’t have access to anything else that nobody else did”. It was also clear the PR strategy had been well rehearsed. A line was drawn beyond which Armstrong would not go – he didn’t say anything he hadn’t planned on saying. He picked his battles too. So he didn’t attempt to discredit everyone but he did attack the testimony of Christian Vande Velde, a minor figure in the drama. Ultimately, though, people will reflect on the things he didn’t say rather than the things he did.

6. Still a control freak

Despite Armstrong’s pre-interview statements about allowing Oprah free rein, this was still a managed PR exercise. He has had three months to prepare, he chose the interviewer and he called out the UCI’s reluctance to enter into a truth-and-reconciliation process by launching one of his own, on his terms. Lance freely admits to being a control freak – nothing has changed.

7. Voices lie, bodies don’t

When pressed, particularly on issues which still fall within the statute of limitations (such as whether he doped during his comeback) or could land him with major new lawsuits, Armstrong’s body language tightened up noticeably. He often touched or covered his face, a clear indication of deception, which told its own story.

8. Targeting ‘everyman’

Most serious cycling fans saw through much of what Armstrong said (or didn’t say), but they were not the real target audience. Neither were the acolytes who still believe he is not guilty, or don’t care if he is. In both camps, opinions are entrenched. The real target here was the man on Main Street who was still on the fence. Did it work? Time will tell.

9. That’s the opening gambit – what’s the next move?

There was an element of damage control here, with Lance applying a Band-Aid to the gaping wound of his shredded reputation. However, he would not have agreed to such a candid interview if there wasn’t a greater potential long-term up-side. What’s his ultimate agenda? A truth-and-reconciliation speaking tour? A future tilt at political office? Whatever it is, we can be sure this is just the first move in Armstrong’s chess game.

Part two of Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Lance Armstrong will be shown in the UK on Discovery at 2am tomorrow (Saturday).

3 thoughts on “Oprah and Lance Armstrong: Tim’s initial thoughts

  1. Sheree says:

    ESPN’s Bonnie D Ford said it best when she called him a “Toppled despot, a statue pulled off his pedestal, but his legs are still moving reflexively in the rubble.” “By force of a lifetime habit, he’s still trying to shape his own narative.”

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