In the final review of Lance Armstrong’s failed legal battle with Travis Tygart and the United States Doping Agency, one mistake looms large: the inability of Armstrong to find a damning label for Tygart.
Armstrong successfully headed off muckracking journalists for over a decade by labeling them “trolls.” However the lack of a disparaging and memorable label for the anti-doping CEO made efforts to discredit him a difficult task.
In general, the Armstrong camp and their PR consultants showed a masterful skill in developing labels for enemies. Journalist David Walsh was a “troll,” Betsy Andreu was a “overweight shrew,” and Floyd Landis a “serial perjurer.”
Even the Texan’s long-time director sportif and friend Johan Bruyneel became adept at finding quick tags to brand their foes — former US Postal riders and current Garmin-Sharp boss Jonathan Vaughters was a “douche.”
However, for all the millions spent on Armstrong’s defense, they were unable to reposition Tygart in a negative light for the media and general public.
“They blew it because they couldn’t knock down Tygart,” said Phil Sharade, a top media consultant in Los Angles. “Tygart was teflon, never getting caught up in the war of words. They couldn’t label him and it bit them in the ass.”
Over the course of the two year Federal Investigation, Armstrong was able to present a strong public relations campaign, calling the case a ‘witch hunt.” His PR chief Fabiani was able to consistently demean witnesses like Andreu and Landis. Yet, when the Federal case was dropped and USADA started their own investigation, Armstrong’s team ran out of gas, failing to deliver a label for Tygart.
“Tygart had no visible weakness — his integrity was unquestioned, there was nothing they could seize on,” said Sharade. “The tried to throw him off his game with some congressman calling for a review and more oversight, but without a name to pin on Tygart, it was game over.”
According to one insider with access to the Armstrong defense strategy, several labels were considered. “They had Travisty, that was a front runner for a while,” said Mike Bogusky, a naming expert who was a consultant on the project. “We came up with Mr. U-So-Sad, which was a twist on USADA. Lance thought that was kinda clever. Then we had stuff like Travis the Terrorist. Nobody likes a terrorist in American.
In the end, nothing seemed to stick and the Armstrong legal strategy floundered. “We even asked UCI president McQuaid because he’s pretty good with cheap shots,” said Bogusky. “Pat came up with “scumbag” for Kimmage and Landis. Pat hated Tygart but the best he could come up with was “dickface.” Which wasn’t bad but Lance wasn’t buying it.”
When the Landis doping allegations first surfaced, Armstrong told the media that it was their word against his — “and we like our word better.” Unfortunately for Armstrong the team finally ran out of words. WIth no label to pin on Tygart, the battle was lost.