Editorial: Cynical about 'confession'

A quick word of warning. If cynicism is something that gets under your skin, you may want to stop reading here, because this editorial is going to be laced with it.

And if Lance Armstrong had hoped that the global response to his interview with Oprah Winfrey, set to screen on Friday (NZT), would be a little more conciliatory than that, then he was pulling the wool over his own eyes as much as he's tried to do to the general public for more than a decade.

It's several months since the publication of a 1000-page report by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) which placed Armstrong at the centre of what it claimed was a highly sophisticated doping programme in professional cycling.

When Armstrong decided not to defend the claims in the report, it was seen as an effective admission of the involvement in doping he'd so strenuously, and at times litigiously, denied.

Yesterday morning, New Zealand time, an interview with the broadcaster known to most simply as Oprah was recorded at Armstrong's home in Austin, Texas, and sources "familiar with the situation" were soon leaking to various media organisations the fact that Armstrong had admitted in the interview to taking performance-enhancing substances during a fabled cycling career.

So is it a good thing that the cancer survivor who won a record seven Tour de France titles has admitted he wasn't clean when he did so? Of course it is.

Where my cynicism comes in, though, is in the careful stage-managing of his confession, and the release of the information. That, to me, smacks a little of the orchestrated re-entry of Tiger Woods into the world of professional golf after much-publicised revelations about his private life. Of attempts at damage control, and minimisation.

Armstrong's situation is much more serious than Woods' in my view. The allegations go way beyond the personal, to lying to a whole generation of fans about the legitimacy of his supposed achievements, to using illegal substances to get where he got, and encouraging, even pressuring, others to do the same. And then going into media interviews and lying about it to the world.

Given all that, why, I wonder, should Armstrong have had the chance to choose the way his confession would come out, to frame it? I'm not suggesting Oprah didn't ask probing questions - the jury is out on that until Friday - but why not have serious journalists involved, why not have heroic British sportswriter David Walsh, who hammered away at the issue for over a decade, finally to be vindicated now, on a panel?

Friday will be fascinating. Has he come completely clean, or only scratched the surface? Watch this space.

The Timaru Herald