Lance Armstong: David Walsh and the media’s conspiracy to make a hero
LET’S hear it for great journalism! David Walsh suspected Lance Armstrong was cheating. He was right. Armstrong cheated to win. In 1999, Walsh wrote in the Sunday Times:
“This afternoon I will be keeping my arms by my side. because I’m not sure this is something we should be applauding…For too long, sportswriting has been unrestrained cheerleading, suspending legitimate doubts and settling for stories of sporting heroism.”
That was the first of Armstrong’s seven Tour de France titles.
In 2001, Walsh met Armstrong. He told the Press Gazette that he opened the conversation thus:
“I don’t believe you’re clean, but this is why I’m here, because I have questions. But the only questions I want to ask you are about doping. I won’t be asking you one question about cycling outside of the context of doping.”
Walsh thought Armstong a bully:
“It was pretty obvious to me that Armstrong was doping – not from any evidence I had but from the way he behaved. I think if anybody had been applying cold logic at the time, they would have come to the same conclusion.”
But they didn’t. Why not?
“It felt like the cancer was a big factor from day one. A lot of people didn’t think it was appropriate to ask what were very necessary questions. I think part of the reason they didn’t want to ask those questions was because the guy had come back from cancer. For me, that was irrelevant. I just didn’t think that should stop us from asking questions. The thing is that in sport nowadays, the sponsors, the race organisers, the sportsmen themselves, they’re almost telling us how we should react to an event. But the only thing that’s still our own… the only thing they can’t take away from you is your emotional reaction to that event. My emotional reaction to Armstrong’s victory was that I didn’t feel I could rely on its validity or its integrity.”
Why did the journalists fail?
“You look at the BBC’s coverage of the Olympics, and it seems to me that the more it went on the more commentators didn’t try to hide the fact that they felt they were fans, not serious journalists working at a very serious event. In the cycling that happened to a degree. Because the Armstrong story was deemed to be so good, so remarkable, an inspiration to countless millions, who wants to rain on that parade? Who wants to be the one to say, ‘hold on, it may not be what it seems’. Journalists then begin acting like fans with typewriters. It was far better to write about the angel on wheels.”
The Times could be just as guilty. In 2004, the paper despatched trusty Alastair Campbell to meet his idol:
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.”
It’s that kind of crap that let’s a cheat prosper. Journalists and others conspired to keep the story fo Armstrong the Superman alive.
The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has ride Armstrong of his seven Tour De France titles. He is banned from the sport for life.
Note: A further Sunday Times story entitled LA Confidential was published in June 2004. Armstrong sued. He won. In July 2006, the High Court ruled that the meaning of the article was that Armstrong was a “fraud, a cheat and a liar”. The paper apologised. Now they want their money back.