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Lance Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey: Power and celebrity trump truth and contrition

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Lance Armstrong Oprah 02
Oprah Winfrey Network

In the end (and it hasn’t ended yet), it always comes down to power. Lance Armstrong still has control: He’s the one Oprah Winfrey agreed to appear alongside, and being interviewed by her confers more of Winfrey’s mass-appeal influence upon his already-extensive power. What do I mean by power in this context? Imagine following Lance Armstrong around today, January 18; I’ll bet you’ll see no lessening of the deferential treatment he’ll receive from nearly everyone who comes into contact with him. This is not a man who has been so disgraced he’s no longer treated like a V.I.P. For all his pious confessions of guilt, of bullying, of helping to destroy careers, he remains addicted to control and the impact he’s had on the sport he’s helped to traduce.

There will be no two-part interview with Greg LeMond or Betsy Andreu. As always in America, celebrity trumps scandal, scandal confers more fame, and fame prolongs power and influence. Last night, Armstrong spoke about how he’d take part in any attempt to reform his sport — adding, with faux-humility, only if he were asked. Of course he’d probably be asked: What committee would not want Lance Armstrong on it, to gain attention to what might otherwise be a noble cause?

What we saw on Oprah’s Next Chapter was not a man humbled. This was a world-famous athlete/addictive personality/rageaholic who still commands respect from everyone he encounters. Do you think Armstrong is now a decent, nice fellow to anyone who is less famous than he is? I doubt it. I feel badly for him. I think he hasn’t come to terms with his fundamental character, he hasn’t hit bottom with a full realization of what he’s done and how he continues to think — of himself, and of others.

And while Oprah conducted a sharp, precise interview, she could not help but feed whatever demons still reside within Lance Armstrong, because just by giving him air-time to confess, to apologize, to self-justify, and to parse the fine points of his sins, Armstrong was empowered to continue thinking he’s still better than all the dopes who doped and never achieved what he did.

What was evident in this interview is that Lance Armstrong has a lot of work to do. Not on rehabilitating his public image, but on his everlasting soul.

Twitter: @kentucker