You came away with this on Thursday night, after we finally saw the interview that Oprah Winfrey did with Lance Armstrong on Monday in Austin: Armstrong was much more compelling as a liar than he was trying to tell the truth to Oprah with about as much feeling as somebody reciting a grocery list.
Oh, he told some truths with Oprah, right at the top of the show, she got right to it before she let him wander around so much in a weird and disconnected performance that you’re glad he didn’t ride this way in the Tour de France, or he would have ended the race in Berlin instead of the Champs Elysees
She asked if he used EPO and Armstrong said, “Yes.” She asked him about blood doping and transfusions and all the rest of it, across all the years when he played the whole world for suckers and said he was clean.
“Yes,” he said.
She basically asked Lance Armstrong if he was juiced to the gills when he was winning the Tour de France seven times and he said, “Yes.”
It was new and noteworthy only because one of the great phonies and great frauds in the history of sports was finally saying this himself, not saying he was clean when he wasn’t, not attacking the real truth tellers, not suing anybody who tried to cross him, not calling his accusers crazy and calling them whores.
“The story was perfect for so long,” Armstrong said to Oprah Winfrey, who had chances all night long to come after him hard and didn’t, just seemed happy to have him sitting there and answering her questions. “The mythic perfect story and it wasn’t true.”
Later on, maybe half an hour in, Armstrong stated the obvious, to go along with the obvious admissions about his drug taking.
“I’m not the most believable guy in the world right now,” he said, and somehow, in this distracted way, acted as if he saw that as being some sort of temporary thing, instead of a lifetime sentence, along with the real lifetime sentence that will come in the aftermath of these admissions, the one where nobody thinks that guy is fascinating or important ever again.
She asked if he were a bully and he said, “Yeah, I was a bully.”
He said, “I was just trying to perpetuate the story and hide the truth,” Armstrong said.
We’re supposed to believe him now, though, boy are we.
Armstrong’s big sit down with Oprah.
We’re supposed to believe this new version of Lance Armstrong even though he won’t go back to Ground Zero of this whole thing, and admit that Betsy Andreu and her husband Frankie, a former teammate of Armstrong’s, were telling the whole truth and nothing but when they testified about hearing him admit to all the things he admitted to Oprah in a hospital room nearly 17 years ago.
“If he’s not going to tell the truth about that,” Betsy Andreu said on Thursday night before going on CNN with Anderson Cooper, “why should we believe a word he said tonight?”
Sometimes Armstrong talked about the whole thing in the third person and often, maybe because he wanted to, he talked about the past decade and a half as if the main character in this psycho-drama was somebody else, some other Lance Armstrong.
Oprah: “Did it feel wrong?”
Armstrong: “No. Scary.”
Oprah: “Did you feel bad about it?”
Armstrong: “No. Even scarier.”
Oprah: “Did you think you were cheating?”
Armstrong: “No. Scariest.”
He lied in depositions and tried to destroy people’s lives and on Thursday night, with a chance to show actual contrition, he discussed what he did as if he was taking you through the stages of one of his Tour wins.
“The guy still lies with such ease it’s almost shocking,” Tom Harvey, a New York attorney and this paper’s legal analyst, said.
Another prominent New York attorney, Richard Emery, talked about what he called Armstrong’s “PR stunt” before he even saw it play out on Oprah’s network for 90 minutes that became more and more tiresome the more Armstrong talked.
“The legal calculation is brilliant,” Emery said. “Keep him out of a future perjury charge. And the only way to do that is to tell the truth, not in a deposition, but in a PR setting. So they say, ‘Let’s do it on Oprah!’ It’s an obvious play. It’s absurd to think it’s for reasons of contrition or because he’s sorry.”
Armstrong kept saying he was sorry, of course, kept saying that he was going to make amends, had one moment weirder than all the rest where he admitted to calling Betsy Andreu crazy but seemed offended that she ever thought he’d called her “fat.”
What makes Lance now different from Lance back then? Why should we believe him?
And when Oprah did ask him, straight up, about the scene in the hospital room in 1996, Armstrong refused to answer, and with good reason, because if he did tell the truth about that — on this night when he was supposed to be all about the truth — that would mean that people around him, more of the army of enablers who have surrounded Armstrong for such a long time, were lying through their teeth to save his sorry self.
“I’m not gonna take that on,” Armstrong said. “Laying down on that one… I’m gonna put that down.”
This was in a part when Oprah was asking him about the way he sued people for sport if they crossed him, sued them because the guy had the money to do that and more lawyers than he used to have riders on his old U.S. Postal Service Team. And the best he could do about frivolous lawsuits that were the height of his arrogance and dishonesty was to once again talk about these “flaws” of his.
Maybe Armstrong is hoping that in his next life there is some transfusion or some sort of blood doping that will make those flaws go away, even as he begins his long ride into the sunset.
“I’m gonna tell you what’s true and not true,” Armstrong said on Thursday night.
In the end, after this huge build-up, after the long wait for the truth from this guy, it was pathetic watching him try to tell it.
“If the feds want to get him (on perjury), I think they can,” Tom Harvey said.
He’ll probably be much easier to catch than he was in the old days.