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Lance Armstrong picks wrong way to come clean after playing dirty

Is there no one around the disgraced cyclist to tell him it's a mistake to take his alleged confession of doping to Oprah? It's not entertainment, it's news, and he needs to face tough questions.

January 15, 2013|Bill Dwyre
  • Lance Armstrong's interview with Oprah won't be on television until Thursday.
Lance Armstrong's interview with Oprah won't be on television… (Associated Press )

The Tour de Fraud, Lance Armstrong version, continues. Tighten your helmet chinstraps and grab your handlebars. Armstrong apparently has 'fessed up.

To Oprah.

Please, just spare us.

Was Dr. Phil booked?

PHOTOS: Lance Armstrong through the years

How you do something is often as revealing as what you do. Armstrong took a deadly serious moment, an international news story, and made it into Hollywood. Is this guy real or is he Memorex?

He taped a show Monday, which won't appear until Thursday, and allegedly told all. Or at least 'fessed up to a lot. Who knows? Maybe he just tiptoed around the edges.

We apparently have to watch to find out, which is the whole point. The other option is not to watch, because we pretty well have known for a while he didn't do what he did, for as long as he did it, because his granola was better than the other cyclists'. Give option No. 2 careful consideration.

All we know now comes from that always tantalizing "person with knowledge not authorized to speak publicly." That "person" said Monday that Armstrong spilled the beans to Oprah.

The immediate reaction: Could this guy possibly handle things any worse? Is there not one person in his collection of advisors, lawyers and public relations people who could have made him understand what a mistake it was to take his story to Oprah's confessional? Will he try to win back our affection by jumping on a couch as Tom Cruise did while proclaiming his love for Katie Holmes? Does he expect that hand-wringing and tissue-dabbing will make all the bad stuff go away?

There is a portion of the populace that will swallow the bait. Always is. But most will see through this, will understand that, at a time when transparency was needed, Armstrong's method was totally transparent.

See this for what it is. This is not about the truth. It's about TV ratings. It is a branding and marketing bonanza for Oprah. For Armstrong, the big question is: After decades of being dirty, this is how you come clean?

Might we guess that the "person not authorized to speak publicly" is somebody authorized (read: paid) to promote the dickens out of this show on Oprah Winfrey's network? The news of this session was leaked a few days ago. That allows for about a week of hype and buildup to the actual airing, and then it got a new boost Monday with the leak that Armstrong caved. The original word was he would make a "limited confession." That seemed to set up Oprah's next interview: a woman who will confess to being "partially pregnant."

No knock here on Oprah. She is doing what she always has done. She provides the couch. Armstrong and his people just needed to be smarter than to put him on it.

In the Tour de France, an event that makes those caught in baseball's steroid era look like a bunch of aspirin-chewers, Armstrong won seven titles. For a decade, he denied doping of any kind and his denials were often arrogant snarls. But recently, those denials were shown, in lengthy and comprehensive documentation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, to be lies. That documentation was partly based on the testimony of 11 of his former teammates and fellow cyclists.

Now, backed into a corner, Armstrong has played the celebrity card, knowing that in our current star-struck society, he will get sympathy. Maybe Thursday's show will have the O.J. Simpson jurors, sitting in the audience and applauding.

This charade should cause an outcry. It is orchestrated manipulation of serious news and an affront to a public that adored and admired him for his athletic feats and charitable use of his celebrity. We weren't very happy with baseball stars such as Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez when they, after years of denying or ducking the issue, admitted steroid use. But at least they came clean to reporters whose job it is to ask the things the public deserves to know. No hankies or couches. Just the cold truth.

Armstrong should be doing this in a big room filled with people with journalistic chops and the experience and inclination to use them. We have more than a handful of Pulitzer Prize winners in the L.A. Times newsroom willing and able. The New York Times and Washington Post could fill the room with capable reporters. CNN has plenty. The TV networks too.

Heck, put T.J. Simers in the front row and let him begin with his signature line: "Cut the crap."

That's what Armstrong deserves. That's how he needed to face up to this if he really wanted to regain any measure of credibility. That's what a public that has watched his races, bought the products he has endorsed, contributed to his foundation and helped create his current incredible wealth, deserves here. Straight-up answers and honest elaboration. Details, not rationalizations. Facts, not taped-and-edited TV talk-show schmaltz.

If you are going to 'fess up, don't make a Hollywood show out of it. This is making a sham out of shame.

Sadly, this Oprah episode will get a huge audience. We are a society of celebrity gawkers. We need less "Access Hollywood" and more PBS and NPR, but that's not happening. It would be nice, on this one, if we could avoid slipping further into the abyss.

Lance Armstrong owes us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And he owes it to us from somewhere other than the Oprah show, in which they cue the tears and hankies before they cut to commercial.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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