Lessons Learned: Armstrong and Te’o scandals


These past few weeks, we have seen two major stories unfold right before our very eyes. Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah Winfrey he doped during his entire seven-year run as Tour de France champion.  Manti Te’o also admitted to Katie Couric he was duped by a guy who he thought was his girlfriend. The man who seems to be behind the hoax, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, is speaking out for the first time on Dr. Phil (Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 in a two-part interview). From a sport media perspective, here are five lessons we have learned from these scandals:

1. 1st interviews were given to Oprah, Katie, and Dr. Phil. Why?

Who would have ever thought Oprah Winfrey, Katie Couric and Dr. Phil would get the first exclusive televised interviews of figures from these to major stories? To understand the answer, one has to understand the audiences these stories really appeal to. These are not just sports stories. Armstrong didn’t just cheat; he also ruined people lives through character-attack lawsuits filed against people he competed against. These stories tailor more to tabloid news because it involves the lives of public figures. Armstrong, Te’o, and now Tuiasosopo’s public relations agents believed the best people to interview them were these daytime talk show hosts.

2. Appearing on these shows does not mean that America will forgive you.

A major motive behind these key figures appearing on daytime television is that their PR people think doing so will cast them in a positive light or be forgiven. But that’s not always the case.

Armstrong, Te’o, and Tuiasosopo have to understand appearing on these shows is just a building block to repairing their image, and they have to commit to tell the whole truth to everyone.

3. Daytime Talk Show hosts will still hold them accountable.

It is very clear the intended goal for these guys, especially Te’o, was to “dumb-down” the story for their audience. But the public relations campaigns for these characters undermined the audience and hosts of these programs. Couric and Winfrey were strong with direct questions and timely follow-ups. I expect Dr. Phil to do the same during his interview with Tuiasosopo later in the week.  

4. Timing is everything in this era’s 24-hour news cycle.

Both of these scandals have consumed the media. However, soon these stories will take a backseat to Super Bowl hype and other breaking new stories.

I question the decision by Dr. Phil to air his interview with Tuiasosopo right before the Super Bowl. While it is sweeps time, the timing of the interview is poor. Viewers will not care about this story as much as they would have if it was aired sooner. Winfrey and Couric had the advantage of having their interviews take place during an NFL off-week and the interviews aired within a week of each other.

5. Oprah and Couric asked all the right questions, mission accomplished.

The job of a journalist is to ask all the right questions every viewer would like to know without over-stepping boundaries with the public figures that they are interviewing. When the journalist finds the right balance, it is recognized by viewers and readers and allows them to form their own opinions. Winfrey and Couric have created a blueprint on how a major sports/news story should be covered.

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About The Richard A. Maxwell Sport Media Project

The Richard A. Maxwell Sport Media Project is a hub for teaching, research, and service related to sport media. The Project benefits students and faculty at Bowling Green State University, and offers outreach and media consulting to area and regional groups that work with student-athletes. Through collaborative efforts of the Sport Management program and the School of Media and Communication, BGSU students have the opportunity to learn such skills as sports writing, reporting, broadcasting, announcing, public relations, media relations, communication management and production. Faculty and other scholars have access to resources about the commercial and sociological aspects of sport.

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