When Alastair Campbell interviewed Lance Armstong David Walsh was missing
AS the Times titles go after Lance Armstrong, and writer David Walsh is listened to anew, the paper might reflect on the decision to let spin doctor Alastair Campbell interview the cyclist in 2004.
The story teases:
Cancer, death, WMD, Bush, drugs, divorce … and five Tour de France victories. Discussions at the summit with Lance Armstrong were tough and uncompromising
When I arrive at the flat at the scheduled time, it is Sheryl Crow, his new pop-star girlfriend, who greets me at the door, very warm and welcoming. She comments favourably on the haircut, then Armstrong appears at the end of the hallway, smaller and slighter than he looked on the bike in Paris, big Texan smile, T-shirt, blue jeans, brown boots. A long, firm handshake and we go into the kitchen for coffee and curly little chocolate biscuits he says he got from a store down the street.
It gets no better.
Armstrong: “…it [cancer] caused me to be a brutally open and honest person.”
Campbell: “If you ask Armstrong a question, large or small, he answers it straight out.”
But Campbell never did ask Armstrong about David Walsh. Instead readers got such candour:
Favourite other sport? Tennis. Best player? Pete Sampras. Is that the same as favourite player? No, his favourite is Andre Agassi….Second favourite other sport? “I love American football…Baseball and basketball? “Don’t watch.” Soccer? Not really… Track and field? “El Guerrouj, that is one runner. I don’t know Marion Jones, but I like what I see. Paula Radcliffe, she is one bad ass.”
Drugs are mentioned:
Armstrong: “This hot button on drugs will always be there. The next thing will be genetic doping. I’m not the first and I won’t be the last (to get the whispers) but I know the truth and that’s what matters to me. People want to know that the guy who worked the hardest and fought the hardest and got the best coaches and the best team-mates went out and won fair and square, and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
No mention of Walsh, then, the man who blew a whistle and was called a “Troll” and had his work and reputation tarnished.
“I wrote four books about the guy. All the evidence was out there since 2004 and people will still say there is no evidence. To me there was a wilful conspiracy on the part of sporting officials, journalists, broadcasters, everybody. Now we see the fruits of it: high-level cycling has been destroyed by corruption.
“I would have preferred it if Lance Armstrong had gone to a tribunal and we would have had all the evidence out there. But he has decided to accept these charges because it was the lesser of two evils from his perspective.
“It is not good for him because he has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and has been given a lifetime ban. He has lost every victory he has had since 1998, but the alternative was even worse – to have a tribunal in which the evidence from 10 former team-mates who all say they saw him doping would have been aired in graphic detail.
“That detail would have portrayed Lance Armstrong as a doper. It would have opened the eyes of the public to what the US Anti-Doping Agency believe was one of the greatest, most sophisticated doping conspiracies in the history of sport.
“How did Armstrong get away with this for all these years? Who was complicit in helping him avoid detection? Because there is one certainty – he did not do this without help.
“Bradley Wiggins is the patron of the Tour and the whole sport. As the winner, he is the spiritual and almost moral leader of the peloton. As an anti-doping Tour winner, I would expect Bradley to say this is good for the sport … we want the guys who cheated to be outed, but there is not a lot of that coming from the sport and that makes me wonder if they are truly committed to cleaning themselves up.”
Such are the facts.