Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Can even Oprah save Lance Armstrong?

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
updated 7:44 AM EST, Mon January 14, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lance Armstrong is going to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey
  • Howard Kurtz says Oprah is trying to overcome struggles on cable TV
  • He says it's predictable that Armstrong would admit wrongs to Oprah
  • Kurtz: It's doubtful that even absolution by Oprah could help

Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.

(CNN) -- The advance buildup has all been about Lance Armstrong as he prepares to enter the church of Oprah and seek absolution for his sins. But this much-anticipated television moment is as much a test for Oprah Winfrey as for the disgraced former cycling champion.

For while Armstrong is no longer the hero of old, Oprah isn't the same old Oprah, either.

The interview, to be conducted Monday, won't take place on Oprah's old blockbuster show, but on her little-watched cable channel. It's part of a 90-minute special airing Thursday that could help Winfrey reclaim a bit of the limelight that faded when she gave up her throne as America's talk show queen to build her cable brand.

Howard Kurtz
Howard Kurtz

It's hardly surprising that Armstrong would choose the Oprah route for dropping his decade of denials about doping. (I instantly knew that what was he would do. You don't go on Oprah after being stripped of your championships and repeat the same old excuses. USA Today reports that Armstrong will admit to using banned substances after his camp had floated the idea in a leak to The New York Times.)

Watch: Does Oprah have the cultural clout to revive Lance Armstrong's career?

After all, she has been the go-to gal for famous folks in trouble. Whitney Houston talked about drug use with Oprah. Track star Marion Jones talked with Oprah about going to prison for lying about using banned substances. Even author James Frey, who touted on Oprah an addiction memoir that turned out to have significant fabrications, went back on the show to submit to her castigation.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



When Oprah was syndicated on ABC stations, her program was appointment viewing. How many people even know where the Oprah Winfrey Network is on their cable system? Winfrey has acknowledged that she's had a rough go in the cable world, which has included management turmoil, layoffs and the canceling of Rosie O'Donnell's show.

"I certainly did not expect the velocity of schadenfreude -- meaning people sort of lying in wait for you to fail, or make a mistake," she has said.

Watch: Was Joe and Mika's fight on MSNBC riveting or revolting?

What made Oprah a powerful cultural force, beyond her ratings and big-name interviews and ability to sell books, was her prowess at image rehab. If Oprah forgave you, could America be far behind? So the stakes in the Armstrong encounter are considerable for her as well.

But Armstrong is no ordinary celebrity who did something naughty that can be erased with a few well-timed tears. The man became an icon after battling back from cancer to reclaim his place as the world's best bike racer. But then came the allegations from former teammates and others that Armstrong cheated, that he used performance-enhancing substances banned by racing authorities.

Watch: Was New York Times right in depicting Obama White House as a boys' club?

Lance Armstrong coming clean?
USA Today: Armstrong will confess
Armstrong's expected admission

Armstrong denied these charges again and again. He lied to my colleague Buzz Bissinger, who produced a Newsweek cover story titled "I Still Believe in Lance Armstrong." And he lied to me in two interviews. He was fervent and passionate, not just in saying he had never used banned substances but in accusing U.S. anti-doping officials of conducting a "personal vendetta" against him.

That was then; this week is Oprah.

Armstrong's motivation is obvious. His career is in ruins. The Livestrong cancer charity he founded is struggling. He faces possible litigation. He wants to compete again and needs somehow to put this phase of his career behind him.

But that is not so easy for athletes who cheat, as we were reminded by last week's vote to exclude Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens from baseball's Hall of Fame, based almost exclusively on alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Watch: Why are media swooning over Time cover star Chris Christie?

They never apologized; perhaps Armstrong intends to do so. But if millions of people aren't watching him on Oprah -- if most of the country just sees a 20-second clip later -- does it have the same effect?

Oprah might forgive Armstrong, clearing the way for others to do the same. Or she might scold him, fostering a sense that he was publicly shamed for his conduct.

Either way, Oprah Winfrey will, for the first time in a long while, occupy center stage once again. For Lance Armstrong, though, the spotlight might prove less flattering. 

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT