In the long, tangled, exhausting and confusing Armstrong case, we’ve come to a few observations and this is one of them: PR matters more than legal judgement.
This has never been more clear in the Armstrong-USADA war of the worlds than right now. Armstrong lost his jurisdiction gambit and then declined to contest the USADA charges so the government agency plans to strip him of his seven tour titles. Only that has little to do with the final judgement.
This is where the PR machines crank up because most people aren’t hardcore cycling fans well-versed in the Armstrong case, past testimony and evidence. Pro cycling fans make up a small minority compared to the general population that’s just weary of the mess, confused by the yelling and open to being swayed one way or another.
The PR strategy matters more than the legal decision because that’s what will ultimately determine whether the Armstrong legend endures — greatest endurance athlete of our time, who crawled off his knees in the chemo room, re-mounted his bike and won seven Tour de Frances.
On this measure, the Armstrong PR machine kicks the USADA PR machine’s rear-end every single day. This is where money talks and reframes the arguments and alters the perceptions.
In the week since Armstrong said “enough is enough,” his PR people are doing way more than enough. In our opinion, they have successfully convinced the general populace of several things that aren’t true.
They have people believing the “witch hunt” story, that USADA doesn’t in fact have jurisdiction and is over-stepping its boundaries, that this is a 17 year old case way past any sane statue of limitations. His people have also turned up the guitar amp to number 11 and are playing “The Man is a Cancer Saint” at ear-splitting volume. Read what’s in the news and the conclusion is undeniable: it’s working.
In fact, sports columnists around the country with almost no knowledge of the case specifics are now feeding the confusion and bolstering the Armstrong version of events. Witness the astonishingly clueless piece by Rick Reilly in ESPN and the coherent and damning rebuttal from Bicycling Magazine’s Joe Lindsey. Like your water even muddier — read this bone-head piece in the LA Times. Even Armstrong booster TV cycling announcer Phil Liggett — who fancies himself a staunch anti-doping advocate — has come out with the Evil USADA narrative.
This is essentially a political campaign in the sense that the candidate with the biggest war chest almost always wins. It doesn’t take much to imagine the difference in financial resources between a government agency and Armstrong. More than a few critics noted that Armstrong could essentially bankrupt USADA and wipe out their entire operating budget with legal maneuvering and tactics designed to drag the case on for years.
Right now, the Boss is once again taking care of business. USADA won in the courtroom but for the niche world outside pro cycling, that doesn’t mean as much as public perception. Armstrong is killing USADA on the PR side.
Travis Tygart, the CEO of USADA is clearly a sharp guy who knows his foe well. But we’re guessing he miscalculated the force and effectiveness of the Armstrong PR campaign. He beat Lance’s lawyers but is losing to the slick guys in the spin business.
Twisted Spoke expects a reaction from USADA in the coming weeks. They can’t hope to win against the well-coordinated and funded messaging coming out of Austin.
All they have is rider testimony and we expect some “strategic” leaks of that evidence in the near future. That won’t do much to alter the story but we’re a long way from final resolution. The title of Daniel Coyle’s book Armstrong’s War needs a follow-up that makes it Armstrong’s PR War.
In the meantime, it’s another chapeau for Juan Pelota, King of the Alps and Pyrenees and Adjusted Public Opinion.