By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
12:42 AM EST, January 18, 2013
Tuesday morning on CBS, Oprah Winfrey said that Lance Armstrong "brought it" to the interview she had taped with him the day before.
Now that we've seen the interview Thursday night, we know that isn't exactly true.
Yes, he admitted to doping and lying and lying and doping and lying and doping some more. But what else could he do? The evidence gathered and the actions taken by the United States Anti-Doping Agency have made it impossible for him to do anything else.
But anyone who watched the 90-minute conversation and didn't walk away understanding they were listening to a sociopath who still thinks he's the smartest guy in the culture wasn't paying attention. This is one sick dude, and Winfrey was surgical in peeling back the flesh and adjusting the lens so that we could clearly see the pathology that's eaten away at the place where Armstrong might have once had a conscience or some sense of right and wrong.
Winfrey's the one who brought it to the interview, and I'll forgive her all the hype and all the excess commercialism. Heck, I'll even forgive her the endless promos Thursday night for Lisa Ling's upcoming S and M special masquerading as a documentary series on OWN. Winfrey hit it out of the park Thursday night and showed that she is still one superb interviewer when she's on her game.
Look, everyone in my Twitterstream figured out what Armstrong was trying to do.
At one point, he said he "was not comfortable" talking about other people involved in doping and cycling, because they were "not monsters, not toxic, not evil."
That's not why he didn't want to talk about others, of course. There are these little things called lawsuits involved when you stroll down that lane. But he did want to try and convince viewers that he was "not a monster, not toxic, not evil."
Armstrong’s not a fool. He knows he's not going to get a total pass at this point in the game. But what he wants to get away with is copping to being a "jerk and a humanitarian." More jerk than humanitarian, sure. He’ll even admit to being a "bully" and an "arrogant prick." But not a monster, not toxic, not evil.
But, thanks to Winfrey's questions, he is still all three as far I'm concerned.
His most shameless and pitiful moment came when he tried to suggest that he was always super competitive, and that was somehow the result of his mother giving birth when she was "young." But after he was diagnosed with cancer, he claims he took it to another level and went for broke in trying to beat the disease.
His mistake, he says, was taking that win-at-all-costs attitude into racing when he was healthy enough to return.
In other words, the cancer made him do it. The cancer made him become such a lying, cheating, doping, twisted, evil monster that he told people he would "incinerate" and "destroy" them if they tried to expose his lies -- and then went about viciously trying to do that for more than a decade.
Winfrey was superb in her restraint and strategy of exposing his rationalization by asking a simple question of fact: "But you were doing that [doping] before the diagnosis, weren’t you?" she asked.
"But I wasn’t a bully," he replied by way of lame acknowledgment.
Winfrey brought up the names of some of his victims, and that’s where he got an upgrade in my mind from narcissist to sociopath. He smiled at the memory of calling one woman "crazy." And he actually seemed to be amused by the fact that one woman said he had called her a "fat, crazy bitch," when, in fact, according to him, he had not called her "fat" -- just the other two.
Winfrey asked him to elaborate on that a bit, skillfully making sure no one missed the smugness and nastiness that still formed the core of Armstrong's so-called character.
Roll on, Oprah. I don't know if I’ll be there Friday night for Part 2. I've had about all of Armstrong that I can stand. I think it's time for the culture to treat him like the pariah he is.
But I don't care if you make a few million in last minute ad buys. And I hope your ratings are through the roof.
You are still one of the best interviewers TV has ever known. You haven't lost even half a step. And your researchers and producers did an outstanding job of telling a complicated story with the tape and film presented between questions.
You brought it, Oprah. And you are doing God's work by so deftly skinning this monster in prime time.
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