Review: The Lance Armstrong / Oprah Winfrey Interview

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 17, 2013 – 11:12 PM

A sociopath is defined as a pathological liar who lacks remorse, is manipulative and superficially charming, and who fails to take responsibility for his actions.

Watching Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey tonight, you wouldn’t have to work hard to make the case that he fits that classic profile.

Armstrong offered a self-interested and rather obvious admission of guilt, but didn’t look like he really meant it. On some intellectual level, he seemed to understand that he had to make a perfunctory admission—but that’s all he gave, failing to deliver his words with the emotion that would give the public a hint that he “got it.”

A person in crisis who “gets it” doesn’t say that he looked up the definition of the word “cheat” and then reveal that he didn’t think he met that definition. Nor should a person in crisis play games when asked whether it was true that he never failed a drug test (in fact, he said, he didn’t, evading the real point of Oprah’s question).

But one of his lowest moments came when discussing a recent phone call with Betsy Andreu, wife of cyclist Frankie Andreu. When recounting the phone call, Armstrong seemed to find it funny that although he admitted calling her “crazy” and “a bitch,” he didn’t call her “fat.” He grinned at his apparent wit, as if he was a mischievous kid who thought his cruelty was somehow funny.

In describing himself, he told Oprah that he was “a guy who expected to get what he wanted and control every outcome.” Although he used the past tense, the same could be said for his demeanor during the interview tonight. Armstrong was stiff, with clenched hands and crossed arms—but he also couldn’t stop himself from jumping in and talking over Oprah several times.

Armstrong also used distancing third person language, calling himself “Lance Armstrong,” and linguistically trying to separate “that part of my life” from “this part” of my life—as if he wasn’t still denying the juicing charges just a few months ago.

The medium Armstrong chose for his interview was telling—by choosing an interview with Oprah Winfrey instead of, say, Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes, Armstrong made clear that this “confession” was more about image rehabilitation than a sincere attempt to come completely clean (he didn’t; he refused to offer many specifics). To Winfrey’s credit, she came prepared, asking short, to-the-point questions before getting out of Armstrong’s way.

In the end, Armstrong managed to diminish his brand even further tonight. Given his reputation, I would have expected him to train for this interview with the same seriousness he once used to prepare for his cycling events (without the doping, of course). Perhaps he did work in advance with a media trainer. But at some point, even the best media trainer can’t prevent a remorseless bully from getting out of his own way. 

UPDATE: FRIDAY, JANUARY 18, 2013, 10:00pm

The clip above was one of Armstrong’s lowest moments of the entire interview. His comment about whether he should be allowed to compete again, “I think I deserve it,” was one of his most tone-deaf of the two nights.

That moment aside, Armstrong exhibited more emotion tonight than he did in the first part.

What struck me is that the only time during both nights that he seemed truly emotionally connected was when he discussed his family. On the other hand, he showed little of that same emotional connectedness when talking about doping, the people he bullied, or his years of dishonestly.

That contrast showed me something: Armstrong has the capacity to feel and care about other people – so perhaps he’s not a sociopath after all (even though he said he was one during tonight’s interview). But it also shows that he’s not nearly as personally connected to the torment he caused so many people outside of his family.

All in all, tonight was a slightly better night for him. But he still doesn’t seem to fully “get it”; nor has he fully disclosed his infractions or expressed a willingness to give something up (such as his aspirations to be allowed to compete again).  Until he does, he’s going to have a long path to public redemption.

What do you think? Please take our poll and leave your thoughts in the comments section below. And if anything interesting happens during Friday night’s interview, I’ll update this post.

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Comments (17)

  1. By Mike K:

    Is it possible to dope for a media interview?

  2. By Brad Phillips:

    I’m not sure, but it’s clearly possible to be a dope for a media interview.

  3. By J. R.:

    I feel that it was a very brave thing to do, but at the same time I think Lance needed to process some of this in therapy before agreeing to an interview. He was not collected, or entirely engaged in the interview, and has a lot of personal work to do in order to make a positive change in his life. It would be interesting to see an interview five years from now.

  4. By Brad Phillips:


    That’s a very good point. This was WAY too soon for an interview – and for that reason, I concluded this had more to do with career rehabilitation than an expression of actual remorse. Life is long, and even people immersed in deep scandal can eventually make at least a partial comeback. I’d be fascinated to see what he has to say five years from now, assuming he’s actually done the work.

    Thanks for commenting,

  5. By Leigh Ann:

    Brad, I was looking forward to your review, and you didn’t disappoint. Your take was harsher than mine, but I expected that because I tend to be lenient. One might say gullible. :-)

    Did you notice that Armstrong repeatedly referred to himself as “flawed”? And when he talked about doing something wrong, he often called it “a flaw”? This inevitably brought to my mind the term “tragic flaw,” used to refer to classic literary heroes who do great things but are taken down by a great flaw. Especially given your sociopath characterization, I just found this interesting.

    It seemed an odd choice of words to me, but perhaps he or his media trainer just (mistakenly) thought it would make him relatable. (After all, we all have flaws, right?)

  6. By jane jordan-meier:

    Just finished watching on west coast. A bizarre performance. Calculated, cold. I think your assessment is as we aussies say “spot on.” Lance has a lng way to go “redemption” if ever. Oprah, overall, did a good job.

    Will be watching the next episode.

    And i feel deeply for Betsy and Emma. Imagine how they must be feeling.

    Thanks Brad for your fortright analysis.

  7. By Leigh Ann:

    Oh yeah, one more thing. Remember how he said he regretted doing his comeback and that if he hadn’t he wouldn’t have been sitting there with Oprah (because, as specified elsewhere in the interview, he blamed his comeback in large part for getting caught)? That was telling to me—a clear statement that he regretted getting caught.

  8. By martin:

    Well said Leigh – I too thought exactly the same – ‘we wouldn’t be sitting here (if he never made his comeback)’ – a very telling comment as it shows a complete & utter lack of remorse!

  9. By Rodger Johnson:

    Aside from the interview, I was shocked by the bendy straws. Really? Bendy straws for a Tour de Force-of-a-liar.

  10. By James Bigg:

    Great post, Brad.

    From my perspective, I felt the interview would only had worked had Armstrong gone all out to apologize. I made a conscious effort to count the times he said sorry, and unless I missed something, I don’t believe he ever uttered those words at all.

    It smacked of someone who was sorry for being caught, not sorry for what he did. And as the interview progressed that opinion appeared to become more entrenched as the “old” Armstrong personality of wanting to win and control every outcome came to the fore.

    Admitting what you’ve done is one thing, showing TRUE remorse is another altogether. It was the second part where Armstrong fell down completely.


  11. By LB:

    I don’t understand why we as an audience expected anything else from an athlete “brand” who has spent many years walling himself into his narrative. I don’t believe anything he says, and I don’t believe he is sorry for helping destroy his sport (among other things). He never said a word about his own children, how he was dealing with them, I saw no humanity in him. However, I would love to see some analysis about Oprah Winfrey. Having watched her rage at James Frey, her indignation at him daring to lie to her, I could only wonder how different the interview with Armstrong might have gone had she brought a little of her own humanity to the table.

  12. By laurie schloff:

    Clear and engaging analysis as usual. I can be a softie too, but the way that sociopaths “leak” their lack of true feelings is a big turnoff. Lance definitely needed more coaching to speak and show remorse, even if sadly, he will never feel it.
    Laurie Schloff

  13. By Mary Fletcher Jones:

    You hit the nail on the head, Brad. Sociopath. Classic case. The only reason why I know that for sure after watching the interview is because of the books and articles I have read about sociopathy, and the surprisingly consistent way they express themselves and handle challenges like this. It helps them get to the top, but they also have spectacular falls, when there is this collective “oh my god” realization of people realizing the extent of their…illness? Deviance? I have yet to figure out if this is a character defect, a mental imbalance, or a combination of both. At least, it is possible to say: yup, that’s it! That’s helpful to all of us, because we’re bound to encounter a Lance Armstrong in our own lives one day, and at least this interview will help us recognize him or her.

    He has a functional inability or significant impairment to experience guilt in the way most of us understand it. Anyone can appear cool and reserved on television but there is a difference. Sociopaths lie, and lie well, and they do not feel shame about it. They do not have the same physiological responses to lying as other people. They have an impaired ability to feel as other people might, empathy. They fail to take responsibility or recognize the consequences of their actions. They don’t show anguish over what they have done. You can see this in taped murder confessions — there is the same detachment.

    I think Oprah did us all a service by recording this interview that goes WAY beyond any interest we might have in the integrity of professional bike racing.

  14. By Mary Fletcher Jones:

    Oh and just a quick comment — sociopaths can have feelings for their family members and other people. I know that caused you some doubt when Lance talked about his family in the interview. They can express pride and affection, for example. But it’s a different kind of relationship and there are other troubling aspects to it. For example, they typically aren’t good caregivers when family members are ill, becoming distant, detached, seemingly uncaring, or even angry.

    One scenario of how a sociopathic father relates to his wife and daughter is explained in The Sociopath Next Door. Anyone who listened or observed this man (I believe he was a university administrator) would feel he loved his family and was just like anyone else, and it wasn’t until an event happened that the daughter realized how sociopathic her father really was.

    Sociopaths snow virtually everyone, even family members, because we are wired to think of people thinking and reacting as we do.

  15. By Eddie:

    The interview proved he is a very well organized and ready to push the limits no matter what. I guess he used a couple of experts to prepare him for the interview, or he is just cold blooded manipulator:)

  16. By janie mae:

    Some sociopaths are capable of feeling for a select few people, so his feelings about family may be real and he can stll be a sociopath.

  17. By janie mae:

    Sorry for the repeat, I didn’t see the previous comment though I read the others.

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