A Strange PR Week: Lance Armstrong, Oprah Winfrey and Manti Te’o

imageIt was Lance Armstrong’s interview.  Long anticipated, long awaited, although by the time the cameras rolled most people knew what the basic content would be.  The results felt scripted, as though he were reading from a teleprompter.  He did little to win sympathy for his cause or explain his story.  The clear PR winner was Oprah.  It was her show.  Her stage.  She landed the interview and media around the world were pulling quotes or running clips from her exclusive interview.   The interview began along these lines.

Did you take banned substances?  Yes

Did you take EPO? Yes

Did you take blood transfusions? Yes

Did you use banned substances when winning all seven Tour de France titles?  Yes

The interview pretty well went downhill from that point on.

One of the problems was it had been widely reported for days that he was going to fess up.  It began with a number of well orchestrated leaks.  The New York Times reported that Armstrong was considering singing a different tune. Then came USA Today reporting that he planned to confess to Oprah. Then came the AP) stated that he had in fact told Oprah he’d used. By the time the actual interview surfaced, no one was surprised by his admission, what people were looking for were how forthright he’d be, how contrite and to find the truth of when, where and how.  His delivery was restrained and stilted.  The fact that most other news shows featured guests who had been targeted by Armstrong only weakened his story.

The Lance Armstrong story is a remarkably sad one. He doped and he lied.  Neither of those are good things, but it’s his actions after the facts that are in a sense the most shocking.  Fame, money and power seem to have unleashed a monster.  He was vicious in his assault on those who accused him of using performance enhancing substances.  Because he had the money and clot to bury those who were telling the truth he did so with a vengeance.  Using the legal system and the media he savagely attacked those who dared to cross him by committing the crime of telling the truth.

Can Armstrong rehabilitate his tattered media image?  Is there a PR or media relations formula that can resuscitate his once stellar story?  Or will he fall into the OJ Simpson category of public relations lost causes?  Generally America is a nation of second chances, of rising from the ashes, but the Armstrong case is a uniquely tough one.  He betrayed and alienated so many, that I’m not sure you’d get good odds on a favorable outcome.  Still, stranger things have happened.

Whereas I don’t feel Armstrong accomplished what he hoped for by granting the interview, it was Oprah who came out the winner.  She landed the interview, asked the tough questions and her show was featured in nearly every conceivable media outlet.

Perhaps the strangest thing about this week was the fact that the Lance Armstrong story made sense compared to the strange saga of the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax.  Good luck coming up with a positive media or PR spin for that story.

Copyright © Anthony Mora 2012

Phillips, Brad. “Review: The Last Lance Armstrong/ Oprah Winfrey Interview.” Photo. Media Training.  17 Jan 2013. 18 Jan 2013. <http://bit.ly/1b6sZ9e&gt;

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