Armstrong Failed to Come Clean in Oprah Winfrey Interview
Our analysis of Oprah Winfrey’s recent two-part interview with Lance Armstrong yielded the conclusion that the cyclist did not come completely clean during the interview. We found that Armstrong is still exhibiting deceptive behavior when confronted with questions about his role in doping by other cyclists, about the details of his own doping, and about his remorsefulness.
Part 1 of the interview started off well. Oprah began by asking several yes-or-no questions, such as, “Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance?” Armstrong answered all of those truthfully. But after that, his behavior got worse and worse as the interview progressed.
About 20 minutes into the interview, Oprah asked about Christian Vande Velde, one of Armstrong’s former teammates who told the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that Armstrong threatened to kick him off the team if he didn’t shape up and conform to the doping program.
There was a cluster of deceptive behaviors in Armstrong’s response. For one, he said, “That’s not true," but he chuckled when he said it.
Smiling or laughing in response to a serious question falls into the category of what we call an “inappropriate level of concern.” We’ve found that it’s not a behavior that truthful people tend to display.
Also as part of his response he said, “I’m not the most believable guy in the world right now,” which is what we call an “unintended message.” Deceptive people often convey important clues to what they’re thinking without even realizing it. In this case, it appears likely that the unintended message is, “I recognize that nobody’s going to believe me, because I’m not being truthful.”
Oprah later cited the controversy that arose when Armstrong made a donation to the International Cycling Union (UCI), over whether he made the donation to get them to back off from looking into his drug tests. She asked him why he made the donation.
Again, there was a cluster of deceptive behavior when Armstrong responded:
- His response was preceded by a pause, which often occurs when a person is being deceptive. The reason is that he needs to buy himself time to first, decide whether or not he’s going to lie; and second, figure out how he’s going to pull it off.
- His response began with an inappropriate level of concern: He said there was no deal, and that it was not in exchange for any cover-up, but he said it with a chuckle.
- Armstrong made a couple of convincing statements, which are things deceptive people say to try to influence perception rather than convey the truth. In this case, Armstrong said, “They called and said they didn’t have a lot of money. I was retired, I had money. They said would you consider a donation? I said sure.”
- And there was another unintended message. He said, “It’s impossible for me to answer this question and have anybody believe it.” The unintended message is likely, “It’s impossible to answer and have anyone believe it because I’m not telling the truth.”
Oprah asked about Betsy Andreu, the wife of Armstrong’s former teammate Frankie Andreu, who was one of the first people to speak out about Armstrong’s doping. She visited him in an Indiana hospital in 1996, and she said she overheard him talking to a doctor, and admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs, including EPO, testosterone, cortisone, growth hormone, and steroids.
This one presented a serious problem for Armstrong, because in a 2005 deposition taken during the course of a lawsuit against a sports insurance company in Dallas, he testified under oath that Betsy’s story wasn’t true. So Oprah asked him: “Was Betsy telling the truth about the Indiana hospital, overhearing you in 1996?”
Armstrong paused, and then responded, “I’m not going to take that on. I’m laying down on that one.” But Oprah persisted, and asked again: “Was Betsy lying?”
Armstrong again paused and said, “I’m just not … I’m going to put that one down.”
Refusal to answer the question is a glaring deceptive indicator. There’s a reason for that refusal, and it’s typically that the truth isn’t the person’s ally.
Oddly, moreover, right after Armstrong said he couldn’t discuss a 40-minute phone call he had with Betsy because they both agreed it was personal and confidential, and that they wouldn’t discuss it, he said he was going to take the liberty to mention that he had said to her, “Listen, I called you crazy, I called you a bitch, I called you all these things. But I never called you fat. I never said you were fat.”
A deceptive person will often grasp onto whatever little nugget of truth he can find to try to influence the questioner’s perception of him.
Non-verbally, during Armstrong’s responses to several of the questions, the cluster of deceptive behaviors included touching his face. This is something people do when there’s a spike in anxiety. What happens is the fight-or-flight response kicks in—the body reroutes circulation from blood-rich regions of the body to the vital organs and major muscle groups to prepare the body to respond to the threat. This irritates the capillaries in those regions, like the face and ears, and the person will touch those areas without thinking about it.
In Part 2 of the interview, Oprah focused largely on questions related to Armstrong’s level of remorse. Although Armstrong professed to be remorseful, our analysis indicates that’s not the case.
For example, Oprah brought up David Walsh, the sports writer for The Sunday Times in Britain, who for years was relentless in chasing the story of Armstrong’s doping. In 2006, Armstrong sued the Times, and the paper settled the case for approximately $500,000, after spending $1 million in legal fees. Oprah asked, “Do you owe David Walsh an apology?”
In response, Armstrong laughed (again, an inappropriate level of concern), and said, “That’s a good question.” This is a non-answer statement, which deceptive people often use as a means of buying time to formulate an answer. Oprah asked the question again: “Do you owe David Walsh an apology, who for 13 years has pursued this story, who wrote for the Times, who’s now written books about you and this entire process?”
Armstrong’s response was, “I would apologize to David.” It’s noteworthy that he didn’t say, “Yes, I owe David an apology.” Instead, with his response, “I would apologize to David,” he conveyed the unintended message that he would apologize out of necessity, but not because he believes he owes Walsh an apology.
Oprah subsequently asked, “So, do you have remorse?”
Armstrong responded with a pause: “Ummmm …” Oprah elaborated: “Is there real remorse, or is there a sense of, ‘I’m sorry I got caught, I’m sorry I had to go through all this, I wish this hadn’t happened’?”
Armstrong responded, “Do I have remorse? Absolutely. Will I continue to, will it grow? Absolutely.”
Repeating the question is another mechanism to buy time to formulate an answer. But what was particularly striking here was his statement that his remorse will continue to grow. The unintended message is, “I don’t have as much remorse as I could have,” which is not something a truly remorseful person would likely feel.
Finally, Oprah asked Armstrong about the fact that Travis Tygart, the CEO of USADA, had told 60 Minutes Sports that someone on Armstrong’s team offered a donation of over $150,000, which USADA did not accept. So Oprah asked, “Were you trying to pay off USADA?”
Armstrong responded, “No. That is not true.” If he had stopped there, we wouldn’t have had a problem. But then he resorted to making convincing statements: “And in the thousand-page reason/decision that they issued, there was a lot of stuff in there. Everything was in there. Why wasn’t that in there? Pretty big story.”
Then, Armstrong said, “Oprah, it’s not true.”
This is the only time during the entire interview that Armstrong addressed Oprah by her name. This falls under the category of deceptive behavior we call an “inappropriate level of politeness or nicety.” A deceptive person will often try to influence the questioner with flattery or familiarity, such as the sudden use of the questioner’s first name. We are left to ask, why did he address Oprah by name in response to that particular question?