Sunday, December 18, 2005

Publicity Exercise? 

Lance Armstrong, the 7-time winner of the Tour De France, has accused a French newspaper of conducting a publicity exercise for claiming that he took drugs in order to win some or all of his competitions. Actually he said a "witch hunt and publicity exercise." It's like J. Edgar Hoover and his much-publicized hunts for communists in the 1950s.

Armstrong says he won't sue the newspaper because that is what the newspaper wants. One can read that in two ways. He won't sue because he is afraid of the evidence the newspaper has, or he won't sue because he won't give the newspaper the satisfaction of airing its contentions in a courtroom. So, he will continue to suffer the charges. Either way, he has to live with criticism from the French and effects of continuous bad publicity.

That's a tough decision. You would think one would clear his name, but he might have determined that nothing he can do will help him. If one is determined to destroy you, you cannot stop the party from pursuing. In the real world, there is no remedy. On the other hand, if Armstrong had overwhelming proof of his position, he should pursue the newspaper and destroy it in court as best he can. The problem is that one doesn't often have a smoking gun on which to base a case. It is possible that one or more of his old samples tested for a drug. Does that mean he took a drug or the testing process was flawed? It gets difficult to know and more difficult to prove.

I don't know if Armstrong is telling the truth. I can't know, but he is using an old rhetorical technique of blaming the accuser. The best defense is a good offense. There is nothing wrong with the technique, if it used ethically, but scoundrels use it too often to misdirect attention. Hence, the technique looks suspicious.

I do know that I wouldn't want to be in Armstrong's predicament.


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