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 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT