I'm less interested in Lance Armstrong "coming clean" about his doping habits than I am about the sense that it was appropriate, or necessary, for him to take his confessional to Oprah, and why Oprah seems to think of herself as national obsolver of celebrity sin. Armstrong's behavior, and his lying about it, strikes me as fairly clear well before he admitted it on television; and Oprah showed, yet again, why this role of confessor is hardly her strongest suit. She got few if any specifics about his doping practices, rarely challenged his (debatable) accounting of past events, and was hardly probing nor suggested the kind of familiarity with cycling or the medical issues around doping to quiz him in any thoughtful way.
That's hardly new; along with the casual assumption of her role as celebrity confessor comes a docile media rarely willing to hold Oprah up to her own past, challenge any aspect of her (even still, however limited) popularity, apparently awed, still, by her (even somewhat reduced) wealth and clout. Oprah's strength in daytime talk television was never particularly related to her strengths as an interviewer (I'll maintain Donahue was way better, forever), but more her ability to empathize and speak for a segment (a surprisingly large segment, in retrospect) of the audience who shared her sense of struggle over personal issues and sense of empowerment from within. OWN has lately, with some desperation, been programmed with significant amounts of old "Oprah Show" broadcasts, and they are, often as not, fairly illuminating just in terms of the host's own transition from charming neophyte to polished celebrity sob sister. The sobbing didn't change... but she did.
Armstrong's fall was, in its way, mostly inevitable; our society lauds athletes in weird ways, and leaves them few options as their athletic prowess fades. It doesn't diminish the talents of those who can run faster, kick harder, jump higher to point out that those physical skills are temporary, at best, and no proof of overall personal greatness. You don't have to be a good person to be a great athlete, and too often we grant too much of the former and, in a sense, take the latter too much for granted. It's why, after so many years of watching, I find Olympic athletes, especially the stars, more sympathetic than laudable. Outside of those grand arenas, out in the real world, I'm not sure those unicorns really have a place in the world.
"Doping" is a curious scandal, one that I'm not prepared, as some are, to call a hanging offense. How much of Lance Armstrong's success was the extra kick of steroids and EPO and blood replacement will be hard, if ever, to sort out, and in the end, hardly matters. He shouldn't have done it. But we can't, I think, confidently claim to know what would have happened if he never had. Perhaps the really sad story is that, without drugs, Lance Armstrong could have achieved many remarkable things, and those things, the true things, are the ones we'll never know.
Instead, we are left with Lance Armstrong, the man who lied and lied and lied again, who lied when it would have been easier to tell the truth, and who, most likely, hardly knows enough to know how to tell the truth, fully, at this late date. It's okay, though, because Oprah says so. I mean, it is... right?
(The title of this post comes from Mary McCarthy's memorable line about Lillian Hellman during their decades long feud, mostly about Hellman's "memoirs" that put herself central to the major developments of major events. "Every word she says is a lie," McCarthy said. "including 'and' and 'the'.")