Vincent Hogan: Lance on Oprah is not about the truth
Published 12/01/2013 | 05:00
Unless Lance Armstrong has a taste for dinner served on zinc trays and sunrise seen through bars, it's hard to see how his looming date with Oprah can amount to anything but a carefully scripted love letter to Corporate America.
The TV-studio-as-confessional seldom amounts to more than an elaborate fiction, a plinth from which the privileged barter for compassion when bombarded with disclosure harmful to their brand.
When Tiger Woods addressed the world before a carefully chosen studio audience having crashed into that fire hydrant, it wasn't an act directed by anything as burdensome as a guilty conscience. Business directed him to that microphone, the stark spectacle of fleeing sponsors.
So, Thursday's broadcast will surely be no more than a desperate salvage operation for Armstrong, a pluck of America's heart-strings by a man confronted with professional and financial ruin. Complete disclosure wouldn't serve his interests. A tear-sodden handkerchief just might.
It was fascinating to hear Tyler Hamilton on Setanta the other evening recall his confrontation with Armstrong in an Aspen restaurant and the 10-minute volley of abuse encountered for his role in unveiling the Biblical scale of deception in professional cycling.
"He called me a lot of names," revealed Hamilton, himself a confessed doper. "But he never called me a liar, which I found interesting."
Hamilton says that Armstrong threatened to make his life "a living hell," which seems a recurring theme now in the stories of those who took on the treachery of a sport and its forbidding poster-boy.
Betsy Andreu (wife of Armstrong's former team-mate Frankie) was on RTE radio this week, talking of a man who "tried to destroy families" to preserve his hold on power. She expressed the view that Armstrong should already be in jail.
And the business and reputational violence inflicted on Greg LeMond and Dublin-born Emma O'Reilly (the former masseuse of Armstrong's old US Postal team), respectively, certainly speaks of a figure for whom ruthlessness extended far beyond bullying notoriety in a peloton.
The world now knows, whether we hear it from his own lips or not, that Lance Armstrong was a cheat. That should be the starting-point of Thursday's interview, not the destination of some meandering, self-serving tale of a complex, troubled life.
We can but assume, though, that certain conditions were applied to Armstrong's decision to break his silence. In choosing Winfrey as 'interrogator,' the obvious suspicion is that he might as well have chosen Saatchi and Saatchi for the process.
Oprah has no history of robust questioning in their previous interviews and there are all manner of tangled business and personal connections to suggest the interview might not have a courtroom vibe.
And be in no doubt that Armstrong is an accomplished, nerveless communicator, given the opportunity.
Go to YouTube to witness his dismissal of journalist Paul Kimmage at a packed Sacramento press conference three years ago and note the control in the voice, the theatrically spaced pauses as he delivers startling abuse – "you are not worth the chair that you're sitting on" – in the tone of a parliamentarian.
Here is a man who will back himself to give a media performance, indeed one whose concept of contrition most probably falls some way short of anything that will sate his accusers.
In many ways, it has to. Because, if Armstrong acknowledges that all he has done in cycling amounted to an extravagant lie, he will hold himself guilty of perjury, having already declared to a Texan tribunal that he did not use performance-enhancing drugs. In other words, the implications of a full confession extend far beyond inflicting further damage on dwindled revenue streams.
If he is found to have lied under oath, Armstrong will do time.
So, for all our natural curiosity, Oprah's couch is unlikely to prove anything but a commercial rehab centre next Thursday. Expect some kind of partial confession, of course, for there is no credibility left in blanket denial. But strategy in crisis is a whole different story to candour through the gauze of a confessional window.
Until and unless Armstrong shares a couch with the likes of Lemond, Andreu, O'Reilly, Kimmage and 'Sunday Times' journalist David Walsh – or "the little f***ing troll" as he liked to call him – nothing he does will carry the glint of authenticity.
Hard as it may sound, prison might be the only truth left to him.