In case you haven’t heard, and you’d have to have been living in a monastery in Tibet not to have heard, Oprah Winfrey is interviewing Lance Armstrong in a two-part presentation on Thursday and Friday. By the time this highly touted interview even airs, there won’t be a reason to watch it. Most of the details have been leaked, with both sides blaming the other for letting the cat out of the bag.
Actually, both Winfrey and Armstrong have their own reasons for promoting the interview. Oprah hasn’t seen as much success as she would have liked since she started the OWN network. While in syndication, her talk show brought in about 6 million viewers. The best numbers she’s had for the “Next Chapter” program were about 3 million, and those viewers tuned in for her sit-down with Whitney Houston’s daughter as well as her conversation with Rihanna. Advertisers are paying premium prices for commercials during the Armstrong interview, so the more noise she makes in advance, the better her revenues will be. It’s kind of sad, in a way, to see Winfrey look and act a little desperate. She left her original talk show on a high note, and maybe, just maybe, she should have let her public legacy stand right there, on its’ own merits, with no apologies and no regrets.
In fact, Oprah has been acting very un-Oprah-like since OWN began. Last year, at just about this time, she sent out a tweet that sounded a little like begging. “Every 1 who can please turn to OWN especially if u have a Neilsen box”. That tweet resulted in a very firm admonishment by the Nielsen folks who don’t take kindly to direct messages to Nielsen viewers. According to their rules, it’s sort of like jury tampering and it skews real ratings’ numbers. Winfrey then sent a follow-up out on Twitter: “I removed the tweet at the request of Nielsen, I intended no harm and apologize for the reference.” It wasn’t a smart idea. She shouldn’t have done it and I feel embarrassed for her. This doesn’t resemble the Oprah I watched and admired for decades.
So, along comes Lance Armstrong, who really needs a place to kick off his “I’m Sorry I Got Caught Doing Bad Things Tour”. In the hopes of convincing the world that he’s truly seen the error of his ways and wants to make everything better, he turns to Oprah and her television confessional. “Sources” are reporting that he finally owns up to using performance enhancing drugs during his years as the reigning king of cycling. I don’t know to what extent he “owns up”, but Oprah says that we should tune in and judge for ourselves as to his level of contriteness. But really, what’s the point? Do any of us really think that Lance is full of remorse and is speaking honestly? He’s had years to develop a conscience and tell the truth. What he chose to do was lie, then lie some more, threaten everyone who challenged him with lawsuits, then lie even more.
Armstrong’s appearance on OWN looks a whole lot like so many other fallen stars and sports figures, who test the waters in the court of public opinion to see if we still like them enough to forgive them. Sometimes it works. In Armstrong’s case, I’m not so sure. He’s got a lot on the line, here – more than just making nice with sports’ fans and reporters. Armstrong is faced with losing millions of dollars in endorsements, and his Livestrong Foundation has lost some of its’ luster, thanks to his own arrogance and repeated claims of innocence. He wants to come back – to cycling, to stardom, to riches, to glory. Talking to Oprah may make both of them feel better. It might even bring her some better ratings’ numbers and a little money. There may even be a few viewers who buy into Lance’s version of the truth, but that’s about all he’s going to get out of this interview. He’s got a very long and very difficult road ahead of him if he really wants to get back on that bike. It means that he’s going to have to really confess to the cycling world’s governing authorities. He’s have to tell them every detail of his doping, his lies, his part in any conspiracies to cover up the doping problems.
Most of all, and here’s the really tough part, he’s going to have to give up the people who conspired right along with him. If he can do that, become a witness against former teammates and officials, while taking responsibility for his part, along with the punishment he deserves, then he just might be able to rehabilitate his image. I don’t know if he has it in him, to put his ego aside and admit that he’s not all that we thought he was. On the other hand, if he does bring it to the table and lay it all out there, I can’t help but wonder what his motives truly are. It’s hard to believe anything he says, anymore, much less how he justifies his actions, and that’s the part he’ll never be able to fix. Lance wants to prove that he can still be a champion and Oprah is worried about the success of her network. They’ve got their work cut out for them.