Finally, Sally Jenkins breaks radio silence about why she hasn't written about Lance Armstrong yet in the wake of the USADA report. Jim Romenesko managed to get her to break her silence, even if her response is mostly a pass.
Lance Armstrong stepped down as chairman of the Livestrong Foundation today, and Nike issued a terse statement announcing they were dropping him as one of their celebrity athlete endorsers (Trek, Anheuser-Busch, Honey Stinger, and FRS Co. also are dropping Armstrong). Nike still has deals with Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Vick (who they dropped and then resigned), and so you see the narrow focus on sports competition as their sacred brand territory. Cheating on your wife and killing dogs are forgivable offenses, but sports doping is not. It's a telling calculus that more clearly delineates the subtext of "Just do it."
The first link above is to an article in the Washington Post, and if you look in the left sidebar, you'll see several other Washington Post articles linked, including one from Sally Jenkins from August 24th of this year titled "Lance Armstrong doping campaign exposes USADA's hypocrisy." That article begins thus:
First of all, Lance Armstrong is a good man. There's nothing that I can learn about him short of murder that would alter my opinion on that. Second, I don’t know if he’s telling the truth when he insists he didn’t use performance-enhancing drugs in the Tour de France — never have known. I do know that he beat cancer fair and square, that he’s not the mastermind criminal the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency makes him out to be, and that the process of stripping him of his titles reeks.
Jenkins co-authored Lance Armstrong's two biographies, It's Not About the Bike and Every Second Count. I loved both books, and they were huge sellers. She had unprecedented access to Armstrong, and she must have spent a ton of time with him working on those books. It's not hard to imagine that she'd be quite fond of Lance.
But given the overwhelming evidence that's come out since Jenkins last story on Armstrong, her silence each day grows more deafening. I don't know if there's is a universally accepted code of ethics for journalists, like they have in medicine, but those of you who are journalists or studied journalism may be able to answer this for me: does Sally Jenkins, as a journalist, and one with more access to Lance Armstrong than seemingly any other journalist, have a professional obligation to report on this story further? Or, since so many other outlets have covered this story, is it really just at her discretion since the public has already had and will continue to have a saturation of media coverage on the topic? As Lance's friend, can she simply take a pass?
A simple Google search led me to this Code of Ethics from the Society of Professional Journalism, and the preamble begins like this:
Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.
When Jenkins writes that she believes Lance Armstrong is a good man and nothing short of murder would alter her opinion on that, she is skirting dangerously close to violating the journalist's code. Is she seeking the truth here, or does she have a narrative about Lance that prevents her from seeing clearly on this issue.
She also writes that Armstrong is not a mastermind criminal, and I agree with her on that in one sense (more on that in a second), but when you read Tyler Hamilton's confessions in Daniel Coyle's The Secret Race and all the sworn affidavits from Lance's ex-teammates in the report released by the USADA, it's hard not to see Lance as one of the masterminds of an incredibly sophisticated doping operation. The word "criminal" gives me some pause given the nature of the offenses here: the societal harm from Lance's doping is so far beneath those of many other people that I'm with Jenkins on struggling with whether the amount of taxpayer money going towards the investigations is being spent wisely.
But since these mounds of evidence have come out, she hasn't even argued that point. Or anything at all.
It's surprising in one way, and that's that Jenkins went through something similar before and did change her tune. Jenkins had an exclusive interview with Joe Paterno in January in which he claimed ignorance of the police inquiry into accusations of child molestation by his assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. This came on the heels of a November 2011 article from Jenkins titled "Blame for the Penn State scandal does not lie with Joe Paterno". Later that year, the Freeh report came out, and after reading it, Jenkins wrote another column on Paterno. As with her article on Lance Armstrong of Aug. 24, this one cut to the chase with the opening line:
Joe Paterno was a liar, there’s no doubt about that now. He was also a cover-up artist. If the Freeh report is correct in its summary of the Penn State child molestation scandal, the public Paterno of the last few years was a work of fiction. In his place is a hubristic, indictable hypocrite.
When asked about her turnabout on Paterno, she gave a straightforward account on Poynter:
So she called her editor and told him, “I think I’ve got to write that he lied.” Her editor agreed, but they decided that she should go through the entire report and her interview transcription to make sure she was on solid ground. That process of comparing the two, she said, is what led to the structure of the column.
I read a sense of betrayal in it, and Jenkins said others have asked her if she’s outraged or angry at being lied to. She’s not.
She described the column as a “cold-eyed” account, a “forensic realization: He lied.” Not to her, she said, but to the victims and their families. “It’s a public lie.”
As a journalist in her position, “it’s forensically your job to print that.”
Go back to that first paragraph of her last article on Paterno, make a few substitutions, and you could imagine Jenkins' next article about Lance Armstrong opening the same way:
Lance Armstrong [Joe Paterno] was a liar, there’s no doubt about that now. He was also a cover-up artist. If the USADA report [Freeh report] is correct in its summary of the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling doping scandal [Penn State child molestation scandal], the public Armstrong [Paterno] of the last few years was a work of fiction. In his place is a hubristic, indictable hypocrite.
The pattern of events feels the same, but this time, Jenkins hasn't brought down the hammer, or gavel. Isn't it still "forensically" her job to print that?
We all wait for Lance to just fess up and to begin the process of seeking forgiveness in the court of public opinion, though given the nuclear core of defiance at the heart of his soul, I'm not holding my breath. And we wait for Sally Jenkins to share her thoughts on Lance in light of the USADA report, but she remains mute. Perhaps she is working on the column already, or maybe she's still sifting through the long USADA report and cross-checking it against specific moments in her books. Or maybe she's saving it all for a follow-up book with Lance, the third and closing chapter of their biographical collaboration.
Ask any cycling coach about what's the best way to ride faster, and they'll tell you it's easier to shed weight than to improve your leg strength. I hope both Armstrong and Jenkins take that to heart.
FOOTNOTE: Those of you who have followed my blog since the beginning know I was a Texas-sized Lance Armstrong fan, for a variety of reasons. So I feel like I have a Jenkins-like reckoning with this Greek tragedy to write as well. I've finished the Tyler Hamilton book by Daniel Coyle, but I still want to finish reading the USADA report first.