Doug Robinson: Lance Armstrong's big lies do matter

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 29 2013 4:14 p.m. MST

Lance Armstrong

Associated Press

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Lance Armstrong: Why does the case against him matter?

Some prominent members of the media want to give him a pass. That's funny, because the media gets a fail.

Why does it matter? First, consider the genesis of the question.

For years, the fawning media failed to look at Armstrong with a critical eye even when teammate after teammate came forward to accuse Armstrong; even after nearly every one of his rivals was busted for drugs, forcing us to believe that he was not only the lone clean cyclist, but that he was somehow able to beat the others while they were on drugs; even when the European press and French racing officials were accusing him; even when law enforcement officials continued to pursue a case against him; even late in the game, when books were written on the subject by former teammates and investigative reporters.

But Armstrong passed all the drug tests, they reasoned, even though there is plenty of evidence to suggest that those tests are routinely beaten.

The trouble was this: Many of the most reputed journalists in the country crossed the line that separates professional detachment from fan and friend.

What is even more difficult to accept is that even after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency presented an airtight case against Armstrong last fall, with more than 1,000 pages of sworn testimony from 26 people, including 15 cyclists who knew of Armstrong's doping practices — they continued to defend him. In some cases, even after Armstrong's mea culpa on Oprah, they have continued to be Armstrong apologists.

They want to let his drug use and cheating slide because he's their hero and they are star-struck fans, and, by the way, everybody else cheated, too, and, besides look at all the good he has done for cancer charities and the inspiration he provided. In other words: It's OK to perpetuate the lies because it makes everyone feel so good, and it's what they want to hear, even if it's based on a fairy tale.

ESPN columnist Rick Reilly attacked USADA instead of the cyclist, which is what happens when a journalist becomes the subject's buddy, but at least he came around after the Oprah confession. Sally Jenkins continues to defend Armstrong because they have a friendship, and, oh, by the way, she's his business partner, having collaborated with Armstrong on two books. Jenkins, the Washington Post columnist, doesn't mind that Armstrong used her to build his ruse and carry out his fraud; she says everyone else did drugs, too, and USADA is evil. One of the books she wrote was titled "It's Not About the Bike."

It was about the drugs, it turned out.

Hero worship among journalists has its pitfalls.

Author and columnist Buzz Bissinger, another star-struck fan, refused to believe in Armstrong's guilt before the Oprah confession, not that it would matter. He wrote in Newsweek last summer, "He is a hero, one of the few we have left in a country virtually bereft of them, and he needs to remain one. … Even if he did take enhancers, so what?"

Author Malcolm Gladwell wrote that Armstrong was the guy who was smart enough to use PEDS to his advantage, "So is that a bad thing?" Robert Lipsyte, the former New York Times columnist, wrote that he doesn't care if Armstrong did use PEDs or lied about it. T.J. Simers of the L.A. Times wants to give Armstrong a pass because of the hope he provided for cancer patients.

No wonder the media slept through the Armstrong case like Bud Selig during baseball's steroid era. The media came late to the game in the case of Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, etc., and they never offered them the absolution they're offering Armstrong.

So why does it matter that Armstrong did what he did?

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