Oprah, Armstrong, and the Shame-Entertainment Industrial Complex

After several years of indignant denials and aggressive dickishness in response to accusations of doping, cyclist Lance Armstrong has decided to seek absolution from omnimedia queen Oprah Winfrey. In a two-part interview airing Thursday and Friday on Oprah’s cable network OWN, Armstrong will come clean about using performance-enhancing drugs throughout his professional career.

I’m not all that curious about Armstrong’s revelations. It’s pretty open-and-shut: he’s been lying for years, and now he feels bad about it. It’s his choice of venue and inquisitor that intrigues me. Why would Armstrong choose to confess to Mother Oprah, patron saint of carefully constructed celebrity “media events?” And what does Oprah, whose network has run into some high-profile stumbling blocks, hope to gain by giving Armstrong a safe place to admit his wrongdoings? After all, she went full Jules Winnfield on poor James Frey after he admitted his memoir, A Million Little Pieces, was little more than a fiction writing exercise. Oprah later apologized to Frey—but that incident made it clear that she doesn’t suffer liars gladly.

Oprah’s Tuesday appearance on CBS This Morning gives us an idea of her motivations:

I think it’s certainly the biggest interview I’ve ever done in terms of its exposure. I think back in 1993, of course, I did Michael Jackson live around the world. This is going to be live-streamed around the world, as well as on OWN. If you can’t find OWN on your station, you should go to, and we have a channel finder there for people who are still trying to find it.

Millions will tune in to OWN to watch Lance Armstrong’s interview. And that’ll be great for ratings.