Posts Tagged ‘Oprah Winfrey’
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 »
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 »