The Power of Oprah

BY ANTHONY ALFORD

During an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong finally admitted he was doping during his cycling career. He also doped before all seven of his Tour de France victories. But this article is not about Lance Armstrong’s wrongdoings. It is about how Oprah Winfrey returned to the spotlight and did something no sport or news journalists were able to do. She got Armstrong to open up about everything he had done wrong. But why did he open up to Oprah and not anyone from ESPN,  CNN or other media outlets?

The answer is actually much simpler than people may think. For the last 25 years, Oprah has developed a reputation people in the media profession can only dream of. If a superstar wants to repair their image, they talk to Oprah. Just ask Jay Leno who did his only sit-down interview with Oprah after he was largely blamed for Conan O’Brien losing The Tonight Show on NBC after only hosting for seven months.

So, what makes Oprah different from everyone else?

Oprah has a unique interview style. Unlike many journalists, who just fire away questions just for a “got you” moment, Oprah conveys a comforting presence for the person she is interviewing through the setting and the tone of her voice. Notice during the Armstrong interview how the set looked like a living room in someone’s house.

However, despite her comforting presence, her questions are direct and straight to the point, unlike another set of journalists’ who avoid asking tough questions because they want to maintain contact with the person they are interviewing for future reference. It helps Oprah is able to perfectly transition from a serious interview with a damaged superstar to a joyful celebrity interview. She has the rare ability to interview any human in this country and not only get something out of them, but make the interview interesting for her viewers. If anyone wants to study how to conduct an interview, there is nobody better to watch than Oprah.

Lance Armstrong is going to have some rough days ahead of him. Who knows what will happen with him and the people he affected. But one thing he did right was he told the truth, even if it took him eight years after his last Tour de France win to do. Armstrong understood if he wanted to begin the process of repairing his image, he had to start with Oprah.

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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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