Posts Tagged ‘Lance Armstrong’
There’s only one reason Lance Armstrong spoke to Oprah Winfrey this month: To begin the process of rehabilitating his image. Doing so, he hoped, would help pave his way back into competitive sports.
After all, if his goal had been merely to confess to doping, he could have just released a written statement, as he had so many times before.
Therefore, the effectiveness of his Oprah tell-all has to be judged in that context, of whether or not it helped to rehabilitate his image. It didn’t. Worse, it did more damage than good, making his decision to appear with Oprah a disastrous one.
The Anderson Cooper clip below features video of one of Armstrong’s most shockingly awful moments.
A poll from my blog (admittedly unscientific) found that readers thought he did more harm than good in the interview:
A more scientific poll, conducted by Survey USA, mirrored this blog’s results, finding that only 17 percent of respondents thought he was being completely honest.
Among other reasons, Armstrong failed because:
1. He Didn’t Come Across As Contrite: In my original review, I noted that Armstrong seemed genuinely moved by the pain he had caused his family, but not terribly concerned with the pain he caused the many people he had bullied for many years. His attitude made many people, including me, wonder whether he is a sociopath.
2. He Still Looked Like a Bully: He laughed when asked about the wife of one former teammate, telling Oprah that although he had called her “crazy” and “a bitch,” he didn’t call her “fat.” In another stunning moment, he admitted that he couldn’t remember everyone he had sued because he had sued so many people.
3. He May Not Have Come Clean: Although Armstrong denied doping after 2005, there’s strong evidence that he’s still lying. He also denied offering hush money to the anti-doping agency USADA, although officials claim he did.
4. He Wasn’t Willing to Sacrifice Anything: As any parent knows, a bad act is usually followed by a commensurate punishment. Armstrong doesn’t seem to get that. He actually uttered this jaw-dropper to Oprah about whether he should be allowed to compete again: “I think I deserve it.”
Editor’s Note: After two-and-a-half years of featuring the five worst video disasters of every month, I’ve decided to make a change and focus on only the worst one of each month. That will allow me to analyze each month’s worst video disaster in greater detail.
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Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, de:Benutzer:Hase
Tags: crisis communications, Lance Armstrong, media training disaster, Oprah Winfrey
Posted in Media Training Disasters | Please Comment »
In my review of Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, I noted that Armstrong seemed to fit the classic profile of a sociopath.
To my eye, he appeared to be a pathological liar who lacks remorse, is manipulative and superficially charming, and who fails to take responsibility for his actions. But he showed emotion on the second night of the interview, which made me wonder whether my original analysis was correct.
Reader Mary Fletcher Jones, owner of the Virginia-based public relations firm Fletcher Prince, says that I was.
“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.
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.”
I don’t profess to have the expertise to diagnose a sociopath, but everything I’ve read confirms that Mary’s conclusion is correct. Thanks very much for your thoughtful comments, Mary!
Finally, I try to stay away from “question mark journalism,” in which I throw out a question (“Is Lance Armstrong a sociopath?”) without having the evidence to answer it conclusively. But in this case, Armstrong was confronted directly with that term by Oprah Winfrey during the interview. He didn’t deny the charge.
Click here to see my full review of the Lance Armstrong – Oprah Winfrey interview, including video of one key exchange.
Tags: communications analysis, Lance Armstrong
Posted in Media Analysis | 8 Comments »
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.
Tags: crisis communications, Lance Armstrong, media training disaster, Oprah Winfrey, sports
Posted in Crisis Communications | 17 Comments »
I received this email from reader Art Aiello a couple of days ago about Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Lance Armstrong, which airs tonight and tomorrow night:
“I wonder if there isn’t something for us PR professionals to consider in that there is the interview, then the story about the interview. I find it interesting that the interview isn’t supposed to air for a couple of days, but Oprah’s talking about it in advance (likely to stoke buzz). In cases like this, the interviewee has to consider not only what he is saying during the interview and what will be said about him after it, but what the interviewer is saying about him before it.”
Art raises a great point. The period between the actual interview and the airing of that interview may influence the manner in which the audience perceives it.
In this case, Oprah interviewed Lance Armstrong on Monday, three days before it was scheduled to air. Although the parties agreed not to discuss it until after it aired, Winfrey was free to speak once Armstrong’s confession leaked. During a lengthy interview on CBS on Tuesday, Winfrey said that Armstrong “did not come clean in the manner that I expected.” That comment, which got a lot of ink, may prejudice the way people perceive the interview when it airs. (Her interview with CBS This Morning is below.)
Media trainers often teach people to aim their communications directly at their target audience, using the reporter merely as a conduit through which they can reach it. But in cases in which the interviewer may discuss and characterize the interview before it airs, that may not be the smartest approach. Interviewers who offer a strong opinion about the interview may influence the manner in which the audience ultimately views it — and their characterization will create days of headlines before the audience gets to decide for itself.
That means that the interview subject has to simultaneously persuade two audiences — the interviewer and the public. That happens much of the time anyway, but spokespeople intent on talking past the interviewer to reach the home audience may be punished in unflattering headlines before the interview ever airs.
The dynamic Art described may not have played out in a dramatic way for this interview, but he raises an important question for PR professionals planning such high-profile interviews. Here are a few solutions to help circumvent this problem:
1. Forge an agreement with the interviewer that neither side will comment on the interview until after it airs. (As we saw in this case, that agreement doesn’t always hold up.)
2. Choose an interviewer with whom you already have a personal relationship or are likely to have some sort of personal connection.
3. Opt to do a live interview instead of a taped one, eliminating the “post-interview/pre-airtime” period altogether.
4. Opt to do a taped interview that airs the same day. Also, consider an agreement that requires the interviewer to air the full, unedited interview.
What do you think? Do interviewees need to change their approach for high-profile interviews that are taped days in advance? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. And tune in later tonight for my review of the Armstrong/Winfrey interview.
Tags: crisis communications, Lance Armstrong, Oprah Winfrey
Posted in Crisis Communications | 4 Comments »
As a media trainer and a former journalist, I tell my clients never to lie to reporters, especially in a crisis. Once the truth comes out—and it usually does—you lose any credibility you may have had and become a completely unreliable source in the future.
Which is why I’m torn thinking about the recent developments in Lance Armstrong’s current battle against doping charges. The Washington Post reports the seven-time Tour de France winner is being accused by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) of a “massive doping conspiracy” from 1998-2007 witnessed by more than 10 cyclists.
Armstrong released a strong statement on his website yesterday denying the allegations, saying:
“I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one. That USADA ignores this fundamental distinction and charges me instead of the admitted dopers says far more about USADA, its lack of fairness and this vendetta than it does about my guilt or innocence.”
This is not the first time Armstrong has faced these charges. The US Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles investigated Armstrong for two years before terminating its inquiry in February without charging him. In that case, two of his former teammates testified in public that Armstrong was doping.
Which gets us to the big question: Assuming, for the sake of argument, Armstrong did dope, what should he do? Should he come clean and put this whole mess to rest, relinquish his seven Tour de France titles and jeopardize his fundraising prowess for his Livestrong Foundation? Or, should he continue to deny the allegations and defend himself in the court of public opinion?
Complicating the matter, a confession would not send Armstrong to jail. The USADA cannot prosecute him criminally; it can only strip him of his titles and prevent him from competing in future events. So this really is solely a matter of Armstrong’s reputation.
Past athletes who have admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs have not fared well. Take Mark McGwire, for example, who in 2005 pleaded “no comment” when asked during a Congressional hearing whether he had ever taken steroids. The public convicted him of being a cheat, and his reputation has never recovered. He finally confessed the obvious in 2010, and has been on the outside of the Baseball Hall of Fame looking in ever since.
Former Olympic champion Marion Jones faced a similar fate when she confessed to taking performance-enhancing drugs and lying about them to a grand jury. She was stripped of her five Olympic medals and the promising career and sports endorsements she once had.
Our firm wouldn’t represent a client that we knew was lying. But assuming that Armstrong is guilty, is his best PR move to deny and defend? Is this an exception to the “never lie” rule?
UPDATE: June 29, 2012: According to one of Lance Armstrong’s lawyers, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency voted today to officially charge Armstrong with doping and being part of a doping conspiracy.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Tags: crisis communications, Lance Armstrong, sports
Posted in Crisis Communications | 7 Comments »