Lance Armstrong, Oprah Winfrey Interviews: A Smart PR Move That Turned Out Badly
Lance Armstrong made a clever and calculated move when he selected Oprah Winfrey to confess his sins on national television. Who needs a priest when you can confess directly to Oprah herself?
Oprah is an American institution. The Oprah Winfrey Show ran from 1986-2011, and then in January 2011, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) channel came onto the scene. Though the OWN network has struggled since its beginnings, Oprah still carries cultural importance. And no one needed to use this connection more than Lance Armstrong. For Oprah's influence is still relevant. And even though she is not the queen of daytime talk anymore, she is still the go to woman for fallen celebrities to spill their secrets to.
Oprah Winfrey has established herself as the queen of facilitating celebrity confessions. Lance Armstrong's doping confession was hardly the first Oprah interview of a controversial public figure. In 2010, Duchess Sarah Ferguson confessed to Oprah first, about her scandal involving an attempt to sell access to her ex-husband Prince Andrew for money. And in 2009, Oprah interviewed the late Whitney Houston about her numerous problems with drugs, amongst other personal trials. Obviously, Lance Armstrong was using the power and pull that comes with being interviewed by Oprah to his advantage.
Undoubtedly, Oprah's style of interviewing is less intimidating than many in the field. She asks some tough questions, but she still maintains a confession-friendly environment. Let's not forget her primary audience is women, and Lance Armstrong knew this. She's not a hardened journalist, which would make her less likely to drill her subject full on. Also on her list of celebrity confessors is Mackenzie Phillips and Marion Jones, the former track star also guilty of doping. Armstrong was playing into the hands of a master and knew that with an Oprah confession comes needed exposure, but one also gets an interviewer with a soothing and only slightly pricking touch. This eases the blow.
Without question, Oprah's list of interview subjects is too long to name in this short piece. But she is the first person a celebrity goes to when talking about a personal problem or needing to come clean. Oprah is America's ultimate guru. Her personal influence and endorsement can spark people to pick up books and actually read them. She has the money, clout, and influence to still sway her audience, even if that audience has shrunk considerably.
Did Oprah's interview with Lance Armstrong improve his credibility? The answer is decidedly no. While he did admit to years of systematic doping, his responses were wooden and he lacked obvious genuine remorse. But this was by design, since an Oprah interview will never fully test the person being interviewed to his or her fullest. Only the edges of the truth will be tapped. Armstrong's choice was a clearly defined public relations move, and time will tell if it helped or hindered him, or if people even care about his admission. Because everyone already knows, he's not really revealing anything not already known.