Endemic

It’s a term used to connote belonging to a particular population. It has been said that doping was endemic to grand tour riders of the 1990s and 2000s. It is also used to describe those publications that serve a particular niche, such as cycling publications. Finally, advertisers who are courted by these enthusiast magazines are also called endemics.

Accuracy notwithstanding, the term carries with it a certain connotation, one that suggests inbreeding. It is, however, a term that defines both the relationships and editorial scope of all cycling publications.

There has been a fair amount of criticism in our comments section, on Facebook and the various Internet fora about how the Lance problem was allowed to go for so long.

I finally got a bee in my bonnet when I encountered criticism of Bicycling’s former editor, Steve Madden, for the piece he wrote for the site he manages, Sports on Earth. A buddy wrote to me, “Please don’t ever, EVER forget that you cats serve the public first.”

On this point almost all of us can agree. Believe me, I can find any number of publishers and MBAs who will argue that  publications are meant to serve their owners or their shareholders or even their advertisers. I call bullshit. It’s my firm belief that a publication (whether in paper or on the Internet) is meant to serve a readership, first and foremost. Without readers, the rest is academic. It’s not the chicken-or-egg question that some folks in publishing would have you think.

So while everyone can agree that a publication is meant to serve readers, we may differ on just what constitutes service. In my mind, the way you serve your readership is borne out in the publication you deliver. TIME is journalism at its best: diverse, analytical, probing. Sports Illustrated is consistently the best photography and writing being done in sports. Similarly, Outside is a sports magazine that runs incredible writing and photography, but it is different from SI in that its reader is the doer, not the watcher.

In other words, not all publications have the same orientation, the same duty. Yes, we all serve the reader, but we serve the reader in different ways. Bicycling has never been about investigative journalism. I liken it to People, but for the bike industry. And I mean that as no put-down; editor Peter Flax has a terribly difficult job—sure, it’s not brain surgery, but pulling together the disparate threads of that magazine is harder than most folks think. It’s not a job I want. To put a finer point on the distinction, my sense is that (and I write this with the admission that I haven’t sold them a piece since 1993) like People they surf trends, trying to drop in at the perfect moment, then riding them until they die out at the beach. Expecting solid investigative journalism into doping from Bicycling is rather like expecting them to cover your local industrial park crit. It’s just now what they do.

You may ask why they don’t do investigative journalism, and the answer is simple: They are endemic. You can look at any bike magazine around the world, apply the same test and get the same answer.

So how does advertising play on this? For an endemic magazine, there really is only one pool of advertisers: bike companies. Sure, every now and then Gatorade will throw you a bone, but the really big advertisers like Coca-Cola and GM (the non-endemics) don’t advertise in magazines with less than a half million readers, which is to say they don’t advertise in any bike magazines. Rodale, Bicycling’s publisher, is able to put together network deals where a company like Ford will appear in several (if not most) of Rodale’s titles because in aggregate they present a large and broad readership.

The upshot is that bike magazines have a far cozier relationship with their advertisers than is helpful. Write something truly negative about a bike company, and they’ll pull their ads. Without the Cokes, the Chevys, the Oreos bolstering your advertising to weather the storm, many publishers simply choose not to write anything critical. At all. So cowed are most endemic publishers (and this is true for magazines outside the bike industry as well), they won’t even mention obvious flaws in a product they are reviewing, which is truly a reader disservice, but it helps illustrate the confusion some publishers experience as to just whom they serve.

L’Equipe led the charge on exposing Armstrong, and if you recall, there was quite a bit of resistance to what they had to say, stateside. Sometimes, investigative journalism is a thankless task. Woodward and Bernstein came under heavy fire as they reported Watergate. Nearly lost their jobs at one point. It takes more than integrity to report true investigative journalism. It takes cojones cut from billet titanium and an army of lawyers on retainer.

Which brings us to the other, maybe greater, truth to why none of the endemic bike mags in the U.S. led the charge against Armstrong—lawsuits. Forget for a moment that bailing advertisers could cripple a magazine for a while.The real issue is the opposition any magazine would have faced had they tried to indict Armstrong and co.

Let’s suppose for a second that Madden had commissioned a Bicycling contributor with the impartiality of Solomon and the dogged determination of Sisyphus to chase Armstrong, and he uncovered everything contained in USADA’s report. The first lawsuit would have come from Armstrong himself. The second would have come from Bruyneel. The third would have come from Tailwind Sports. The fourth would have come from the UCI. The fifth would likely have come from USADA itself and for good measure, USA Cycling might have contributed a sixth lawsuit.

There’s not a bike magazine on the planet with the kind of reserves to make that defense worthwhile. There’s not a story a bike magazine can run that’s worth as much as the value of the publication itself. Forget the fallout over publishing that piece for a moment and let’s go to the internal fight that would have taken place to try to put that piece in the magazine. I believe the publisher during most of Madden’s tenure was Chris Lambiase. I can’t promise that Lambiase would have vetoed the story, but I can assure you I’ve worked for plenty of publishers who would have.

How about yet another scenario? Let’s pretend that Bicycling did run that story. It’s possible to run extraordinary allegations, allegations that go against everything the public believes about someone, allegations so at odds with what the public wants to see they just choose not to believe it. Just ask David Walsh and Pierre Ballester, the authors of “L.A. Confidentiel.” As RKP contributor Charles Pelkey noted in his most recent Explainer column, Walsh and Ballester wrote a book that covers most of the allegations against Armstrong contained in USADA’s report. Only they did it in 2004.

This points to another fundamental truth: For a long time there was a tide against the truth where Armstrong was concerned. Most people really didn’t want to know the truth. They wanted to believe in Santa Claus.

Any number of magazines reported on the broad strokes of “L.A. Confidential” and the public didn’t just turn deaf ears to the song, they covered their ears and changed the station. Heck, USADA could have begun an investigation then, but didn’t. It’s fair to ask why. If you want to be upset about inaction, press USADA for why they didn’t charge before Armstrong won his seventh.

What I’m driving at is the reality that real investigative journalism is the domain of non-endemic publications. It takes newspapers like The Times and l’Equipe to have both the staff necessary to allow someone to chase a story of this magnitude and the resources necessary to defend against the blowback when they publish a truly negative story. The corollary to this is the UCI’s lawsuit against Paul Kimmage and the fact they didn’t name any of the publications that ran Kimmage’s work (though NYVelocity would have been an easy target).

Which brings us to cycling’s incredible Catch-22. Cycling is a small sport here in the U.S. It receives the attention of big media as often as the fat kid gets the cute girl on a date—almost never. Unless the sport grows, drawing more eyeballs, it will never command the attention of non-endemic publishers here in the U.S. And unless cycling can get clear of doping scandals, it won’t ever grow again like it did during Armstrong’s reign.

 

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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43 comments

  1. Evan Shaw

    Pervasive doping exists in cycling AND NFL and NHL and MLB and Track & Field and Swimming, and and and. Journalists large and small sports large and small are not investigating it, fully, completely and comprehensively. Witness the lawsuits by NFL players and NHL players regarding concussions pain killers issued and permanent brain degeneration. Yet the public pays more to watch like in a Roman coliseum.

    Although I appreciate and understand that lawsuits chill journalists, a magazine must not portray itself as journalism when !. They are not operating as journalist 2. They are not even reporting two sides of a story, the infamous fair and balanced stick.

    What I feel you are not addressing here is that so called journalists are actually like Fox news, defrauding the public by pretending to be journalists when they are in bed with the industry and are simply providing propaganda to increase sales interest and obfuscate and cover up facts coming to light. In short they are actually damaging the the trust in journalism and de facto becoming complicit in crimes indirectly.

    Witness SI ESPN routinely pretending journalistic ethics and basically running pieces that mouthed Armstrong’s lawyers lines for a decade and still to this day in some cases.

    I have stopped reading all of these magazines. I stopped watching Fox so called news. I hope you discuss this aspect of our current press and how it is not functioning as a free press.

  2. peter lin

    To put things in perspective, steroids are common in college football, so it’s not just professionals that dope. Growing up in CA south bay area, I knew several athletes that used steroids in high school.

    For me, this is really a cultural issue. If we’re to really fix this problem, we have to stop thinking and preaching “winning is everything.” Until that happens, we’re still going to have doping in every professional sport. It’s farce to think that testing is going to completely solve the issue.

    To me, all of the hypocrisy coming from UCI, and USADA is counter productive.

  3. Seano

    Sad but true. I still enjoy endemic publications, despite the cozy relationship between manufacturers & editorial. I think a lot of people think life happens in a vacuum… But it doesn’t. Most critics probably aren’t so outspoken with their own bosses or customers when their very livelihood is at stake.

  4. Tom

    Thing is, I get why they didn’t run these stories. The other thing is, when stories about the doping ran elsewhere, magazines like Bicycling defended the dopers. Especially in the United States. There were many people who wanted to “Believe Tyler” and then contributed to the Landis Legal Fund. Hell, most cycling fans in the US when an American rider was implicated in doping, they came out full force against the tests or allegations. How can an American do that?

    The contrary point to that is that when a European guy tested positive for doping, they just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Yeah, it figures.” There was, and still is a total disconnect I think. An American does it, nobody believes it. A Euro-dog does it, it’s assumed.

    I have people I know and respect STILL telling me, today, that Armstrong never tested positive, and therefore, he’s not guilty of doping. They want to believe so much in the fairy tale, but that’s all that it is, a fairy tale. It’s not true. And probably never was true.

    The other problem in cycling journalism, such as it is, is that the guys who do the writing and reporting are buddies with the guys they’re writing about. I think this happens a lot in most sports coverage. And hence, we get watered down reporting about just about all sports, at least in the US. It’s not like political reporting, where you typically aren’t buddy-buddy with your subjects, you’re at arm’s length, and can write and report objectively. Not so in cycling journalism. All of those guys know the pros, and don’t want to piss them off.

  5. Reid N.

    Re: the fear of lawsuits. Somebody please get these people a First Amendment/libel defense lawyer! I would be happy to take the job actually. (Did it early in my career for the National Enquirer and it was a lot of fun). We are not in Britain — but the United States. And while the economy, national reputation, and everything else may be going down the toilet, fortunately the New York Times v. Sullivan case ensures that when it comes to a public figure — like Armstrong, Bruyneel, and probably anyone who has ridden in the Tour de France, no libel lawsuit will be successful unless the publisher is found to have acted with “malice” — meaning knowledge of the falsity of the statements or reackless disregard as to the truth or falsity of the statements. This is an incredibly high standard to meet for the (supposedly) libeled plaintiff. Notice that Armstrong never filed suit in the United States against any US publication (I stand ready to be corrected if I am wrong on this). The reason should be obvious. Truth is a defense! So any publication accused of libeling Lance would get to take lots depositions to confirm the truth of the allegations. Armstrong would have to testify repeatedly under oath about exactly what happened on what date. That would have been awesome, and he never would have done it. That, of course, would only be if it got that far. In most instances, competent journalists would have notes of interviews, which themselves would show a lack of malice. Accurate reporting of what someone else says (with a reasonable basis to believe the truth of the speaker’s comments) is enough to show no malice.
    But let’s put aside all of that for a moment. What I take issue with is the fact that almost all the “endemic” cycling press stood by while the likes of Walsh, Kimmage, Lemond, Andreu and others were publiclly ripped to shreds by Armstrong, his lawyers and public relations team — and millions of Armsrong fans who he could manipulate, almost at will with a Twitter tweet. Lemond lost his business. Kimmage was publicly excoriated by Armstrong for questioning his relationship with admitted ex-dopers. And yet the vast majority of the US cycling press sat on their hands for YEARS while this was going on — fearful of losing the next Astana or Discovery or Radio Shack interview. The truth is that the myth of Armstrong (and the American 4, 5, 6, aand 7 time winner) sold bicycle magazines as well as bicycles. The power of the pen should give courage. Most American cycling “journalists” and publishers exhibited cowardice fir the last decade.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Everyone: Thanks for your comments. This is a pretty touchy topic, one that lays bare some less-than-rosy truths.

      Reid N: From the limited view of my seat, the question isn’t whether or not the publisher would win, but whether or not they could afford to fight the case. Not all publishers will do the math the same way, but many just decide they don’t want the conflict, can’t afford the fight.

      As to why Armstrong never sued a U.S. publication, I think the analysis is more likely that it is because they weren’t chasing him the way other publications did.

      Rod Diaz: While I do think Livestrong has done a great deal of good, I don’t think Madden’s defense (“if even one life was saved”) is a sufficient get-out-of-jail defense for what Armstrong did, what he took to be reason enough not to report more on Armstrong’s (then) alleged doping.

      It’s true that Kimmage, LeMond, Andreu were left twisting in the wind and that wasn’t right. I took issue with LeMond in an open letter I wrote to him (it appeared on Road Bike Action’s web site) and the way he used Armstrong’s press conference at Interbike in 2008 as a way to grill him. It struck me as inappropriate. My response was that he should have been talking the UCI, WADA and USADA, bringing his concerns, his analysis, his evidence (such as he had) to them. Derailing a press conference was unseemly and struck me as beneath him. While I don’t know if LeMond did that and was rebuffed, I can now see that event in a different light, that it was one of very few chances he had to try to call Armstrong out.

  6. Rod Diaz

    Ugh… I got really angry at Madden’s editorial in SoE. And maybe I’ll go back and apologize a bit. You’re right, there was little upshot in chasing LA’s myth.

    The part that angered me is how he justified it by saying that if one life from a cancer sufferer was saved, it was all worth it. Argh. Also, saying “I had my suspicions all along, but didn’t want to risk it and justify it. Other journalists have recognized their dilemma, and apologized for furthering the myth and not doing more at the time. Madden did not, he comes across as providing a great justification for his behaviour.

    Which makes me think – if that is the stance, if you didn’t report on things or investigate because it would irk advertisers and feel justified, then this editorial stance is still being upheld – nothing that will risk the revenue stream. I can get that from the PR personnel, don’t need that journalism.

  7. blair

    “how he justified it by saying that if one life from a cancer sufferer was saved, it was all worth it.”

    Tell me you didn’t just say it would be okay if someone died as long as you got your sports memories back…

  8. blair

    Let’s just say what needs to be said: Bicycling Magazine is soft as puppyshit, and is the last cycling-related publication I would expect to assign an expose’ of anyone or anything, or even print one that was dropped in its lap. Would they come along behind and do a softball interview after the fur had already flown? Maybe, but it’d be as deep as grass stains and as revelatory as a butyl rubber visor. It could cease publication tomorrow and its subscribers would sigh in relief at not having to recycle it every month.

    L’Equipe was after Armstrong because they hated his guts and were mining a vein of similar hate in the French public. Tabloidism at its finest, a grain of truth and a barrel of yellow ink. You had to know how Armstrong would react: by gritting his teeth, upping his dose, and climbing the Hautacam one more time. Symbiosis. Profit for everyone.

    An aside on Kimmage: Even though the plaintiffs didn’t name his publishers as co-defendants, why haven’t any of them stepped up and made a show of defending him? They’re gutless at best and have no confidence in his story at worst. Even after the assist from USADA.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Blair: You touch on some interesting points. First, I didn’t read Rod Diaz’ comment the way you might have; I don’t think he was saying he wanted Armstrong restored. However, I do differ with you about Bicycling. Their mandate is to reach as many cyclists as possible and while not everything they publish is interesting to me, there’s something in every issue that I do find interesting.

      But your point regarding the defense of Kimmage is well-noted and one I’ve considered. Why didn’t his publishers come forward with assistance? Obviously, they had no duty to, legally, but it seems like the moral thing to do. Finally, your charge against l’Equipe is the one that has consistently troubled me. If there’s anything I think the media has a duty to do, it is to be objective, and I was always troubled by the way l’Equipe, Walsh, Kimmage and others seemed to be so partisan, so focused on Armstrong to the negligence of all else. I have this concern that other important doping stories should/could have been chased with similar energy.

  9. Reid N.

    One last response on the legal costs issue. Had Armstrong actually sued a publication, I can guarantee that you would have had top notch First Amendment lawyers fighting tooth and nail to represent the sued publication — gratis. I actually had some private e-mail correspodence with Jonathan Vaughters a few years ago (connected by e-mail via your colleague Mr. Pelkey while he was at Velonews). Vaughters had responded to a post of mine that we should not give Vaughters a pass for running a “clean” team, until he clame comepletely “clean” about his time on Postal (the “hotsauce” e-mail had become public by then). Vaughters responded privately to me saying words to the effect of, “it makes no sense to get in a public pissing match with a national hero like Arsmtrong, he is not a nice guy and I can do more to combat doping by being quiet about the past and moving forward.” I assumed he felt threatened legally and so I offered free legal services in the event Armstrong sued. Vaughters said his father was a lawyer and it was not legal threats he was worried about–some other kind of vague threat was implied and he repeated, “Armstrong is not a nice guy.”
    So I think that the reuctance to go after Armstrong by anyone associated with the cycling industry was less about an actual legal threat to sue for libel, as opposed to a business/reputational threat like: “You will never work in cycling again if you print that story.” See Frankie Andreu–fired from his management position. See the threat that unless Vaughters let Prentice Steffan go, his own team would lose sponsors and not be invited to races.
    My over-arching point is simply that there were not a lot of profiles in courage among the American bicycling press. And I think that your argument that the threat of a lawsuit was one of the reasons is not terribly persuasive. If the Emma O’Reilly, Betsey Andreu, and Greg Lemond’s of the world had the courage to stand up to a bully in the face of overwhelming and scathing public criticism, the professionals with the pens (mightier than the sword, remember?) should have been able to do so too.

  10. Reid N.

    Have to comment on Blair’s response.
    I don’t believe it is fair to critcise L’Equipe. They were doing what any good journalists do — going after a story, and they were going after the biggest story of them all. I think a fair comparison is between L’Equipe’s coverage of Armstrong and the US press’s coverage of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark Mcguire. Say what you will about the French — but they KNOW cycling. Americans, for their part, KNOW baseball. So when 35-40 year old men start beating Roger Maris’ home run record by 5 and then 10 runs, everyone who knew anything about baseball knew something crazy was going on. Same thing with the 1999 and 2000 Tours. When an entire team is charging up a hill like “extra-terrestrials” the congniscenti know something fishy was going on. Having been through the horrific Festina debacle in 1998, of course the French cycling press was going to be on high alert about doping. Then see what Armstrong did to Festina’s only clean rider, Bassons — and Armstrong was just asking for it.
    Consider that embarrassment to sports writing, Rick Reilly. When Armstrong was winning his first tours, Reilly was writing about what a miracle it was and why couldn’t the jealous French simply accept that an American cancer survivor was dominating their sacred race? At the very same time, he was confronting Bonds about his giant growth-hormone head, and challenging Sammy Sosa to get drug tested. I’ll give Reilly credit for going after Bonds and sosa– because he knew baseball and knew that these two were doped to the gills. But please, don’t hold it against the French sports journalists that they were actually their jobs–unlike American spotswriters.

  11. Joe Lindsey

    Patrick,

    Wow, uh, thanks? Between you and Madden, I’ll cite the old proverb: “With friends like these…”

    You damn Bicycling with faint praise by saying we can’t be expected to do substantive journalism because we’re “just” a bike magazine while ignoring what the magazine HAS done.

    You write, in part, “Any number of magazines reported on the broad strokes of ‘L.A. Confidential’…”

    Bicycling was one of those magazines; one of the first, actually. I was the writer.

    In June of 2004 I wrote a long piece for my Boulder Report blog on Bicycling.com about Lance Armstrong, David Walsh and the book, centered on the June press conference to announce the Discovery Channel sponsorship for the following season, and which had as a sideshow many questions about the upcoming book. It’s archived here:
    http://www.2009tourdefrancenews.com/tourdefrance/article/0,6802,s-7-123-8661-1,00.html

    In the piece, I detailed the book’s most serious allegations; I mentioned Armstrong’s rough PR tactics, which included freezing out past associates and even suing a sponsor (Pearl Izumi, 1999) over a congratulatory ad for his Tour win that year because they didn’t have a separate image rights contract; I noted and linked to a 2003 story by Outside’s Eric Hagerman that spoke candidly of journalists trading objectivity for access (these were, I should point out, mostly reporters for European newspapers, not cycling magazines); I said that Armstrong made a nasty slur against Emma O’Reilly in that Discovery press conference by saying she had been let go from the team because there were “issues within the team, within the other riders that were inappropriate;” finally, I mentioned that some dude named Travis Tygart, then director of legal affairs for this obscure USADA outfit, had outlined in a memo a plan to amend anti-doping rules to allow an anti-doping sanction based on non-analytical evidence (ie. in the absence of a positive lab test). I concluded by writing that Armstrong’s performance at the press conference showed that his publicly sunny persona hid a dark and vindictive streak, and that his actions “turn former friends and associates against (him), with the ugly kind of ruthless focus on winning that is heedless of the human toll it exacts.”

    Does any of that sound familiar given recent events?

    Bicycling published that piece on the eve of Armstrong’s drive for a record sixth Tour title, at a time when more than 80 percent of the American public firmly believed he was clean (contemporary ESPN and MSNBC polls). And on the Boulder Report, which I’ve written since 2002, they’ve published dozens more stories about doping and Armstrong, Tyler, Floyd, Puerto, and lots more. The editor-in-chief during that 2004 piece cited above? Steve Madden. If he caught shit for that piece or others, and he probably did, I never knew. An editor’s job is partly to insulate his writers from that kind of pressure, and he did.

    Elsewhere, in 2005, for Outside, I wrote a 7,000-word feature on Armstrong’s legal battles with Walsh and Pierre Ballester, Walsh’s publishers, Mike Anderson and SCA Promotions. I wrote two features for Men’s Journal on Floyd Landis and a profile of Frankie Andreu. What is a journalist other than someone who practices journalism – in whatever venue?

    Your point about “endemic” magazines avoiding investigative journalism because of its potential risks conveniently elides that another publication in the category – VeloNews – for years employed RKP’s own contributor, Charles Pelkey, no shrinking wallflower he on questions regarding Armstrong and dope. Pelkey is one of the few American journalists to write honestly about Walsh and his work at a time when the most mainstream American media ignored the questions around Armstrong altogether.

    So are we hard-hitting Woodwards and Bernsteins at Bicycling? No, not all the time or even close; this is, as you accurately point out, a magazine that’s about its readers’ experiences – which means a lot of service writing. Bicycling doesn’t “surf trends,” as you put it, so much as it does explain them. We cover all aspects of the sport that might relate to our readers: gear, fitness and training, nutrition, maintenance, travel, and racing; past that, almost any human interest story that involves bicycles is part of Bicycling’s editorial coverage. It’s an incredibly broad mandate, meant to encompass experiences from new riders to old vets.

    Bicycling’s coverage of cycling also includes great journalism (as in Bill Gifford’s story on Michele Ferrari, still the only profile of Dr. Evil to run in any American publication, or David Darlington’s National Magazine Award-winning piece “Broken,” on bike-car crashes) and commentary. Just because much of that commentary goes online rather than in print doesn’t mean it’s not part of the Bicycling brand.

    Real investigative journalism isn’t and shouldn’t be “the domain” of any particular kind of media outlet, large or small; print or video; physical or digital. NYVelocity has a fantastic series of interviews with people like Paul Kimmage and Mike Ashenden. And yes, Bicycling, Outside, and other mainstream outlets have done good journalism on cycling and doping, including Armstrong.

    It’s fair to question whether journalists as a group should have done more to report the truth of Armstrong’s story earlier. But it’s simply not true to suggest that some very good journalists at cycling publications looked the other way, or that we should somehow leave “real journalism” to the big boys.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Joe: I guess it cuts both ways; it’s nice to know you’re stopping by RKP, but this could have been more fun for us both.

      My purpose was not to denigrate Bicycling’s efforts in any way; it was to frame expectations. You’ve done little other than stellar work. And while I didn’t catch that particular edition of the Boulder Report (wish I had), isn’t it fair for us to ask why, if Bicycling was so bent on cutting-edge journalism, wasn’t that the cover story for the July issue? I think the answer could go to my point. Given the time you wrote that, it was definitely a very strong indictment of the Armstrong machine. Why was it a web-only piece?

      You mention Gifford and Darlington’s excellent pieces; I’m 100 percent with you on those. Bicycling does publish some very fine work; if you peruse these comments a bit more I think you’ll find that I’ve done more sticking up for Bicycling than maybe you think.

      Ultimately, I think the proof is in the pudding. While some good—even exceptional—reporting was done by the endemic media, that set of publishers didn’t get the job done. It took Tygart and Novitzky to blow the lid off the case and that speaks to another of my points, the simple matter of resources. Had you been employed by Esquire, the situation might have been quite different.

      I continue to wonder why USADA didn’t begin an investigation on Armstrong when LA Confidentiel was published. Why didn’t the public at large accept Walsh and Ballester’s work as the truth? Why did it take Tygart making the truth utterly unavoidable before the public accepted facts many of us had long known?

      All that aside, you’re a colleague and a friend. To the degree that I’ve offended you with what I’ve written, I apologize.

  12. randomactsofcycling

    The Cycling publications in Australia at times skirted around the edges of the LA controversy but none ever tried to ‘out’ him, head-on. The mainstream press were almost sycophantic in their praise for ‘the miracle’.
    My very limited knowledge of L’Equipe and the French public in general, so far as their attitude to LA, tells me that a lot of the anti-Lance stuff was a bit of a beat-up and an attempt to make the continuing ‘phenomenon’ seem even more resilient. In my experience, French people tend not so much to actively hate as to simply ignore. Also in my experience there is nothing an American sporting celebrity dislikes more than to be ignored!

  13. Reid N.

    Patrick you raise a very good point about the USADA’s failure to act in 2005-06. The one real criticism I have with the USADA’s report is found on pages 154-55 — the section (if you can call it that) about why the statute of limitations (8 years) does not apply.
    The USADA relies on the American legal doctrine that the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the party bringing the claim had reason to know of its existence. Where the party seeking to take advantage of the statute has acted inequitably and fraudulently concealed the knowledge of the claim, then the statute does nto begin to run. But the party bringing the claim is not allowed to be passive. If “reasonable diligence” would have revealed the existence of a claim, then the statute runs.
    The Reasoned Decision asserts that because Armstrong lied (presumably at the SCA proceedings) and elsewhere and took other steps to cover up his doping, he subverted the judicial process and “precluded the earlier discovery of his doping by the USADA.”
    Now, wait a minute. I am just a fat nobody in Denver, Colorado and by 2005-06, even I had strong reasons to believe Armstrong was doped to the gills. I had read Le Mensonge Armstrong, read the excerpts of LA Confidential, read the leaked reports of testimony in the SCA case. As Pelkey poined out–much of the evidence relied on as corroborative in the Reasoned Decision was available for everyone to see by 2004-2006. Reasonable diligence by the USADA or anyone else would have discovered a basis for a claim against Armstrong. So — sanction him? Yes. Ban him for life? Yes. But are they really entitled to go back to 1999 and get him for offenses that reasonable diligence would have disclosed? On this score, the Reasoned Decision leaves me unpersuaded.

  14. Professor Velo

    In reading this story along myriad others over the past few days, it seems as though a potential analogue for Armstrong is what happened with big tobacco. There were obviously suspicions for years over the effects of smoking and yet the American public was just not ready to hear it… and it took and insider with a smoking gun and an accompanying sea change to sufficiently alter public perceptions about smoking..

    Indeed, I think a lot of the invective and vitriol from commenters across the board is their sense of complicity in this whole thing. ‘we’ all wanted to believe at one point or another. Even in the middle of the season people were signing petitions to “Let Horner Ride”. I suspect these are the same people who are now savagely attacking his denial of obvious wrongdoing. Perennial favorite Jens Voight – up until this past week the target of almost religious passion – is now ‘clearly’ a doper… really? clearly? and why wasn’t he “clearly” a doper when the smiling masses made him repeat “shut up legs!”. Well, because we weren’t ready to believe.

    I think there is enough blame to go around. No one can be found to have done enough – even while in hindsight our complicity bids us seek a responsible party… and someone other than ourselves. In many ways I think we can extend this to the whole of the doping scandal. The very ubiquity of this means that good men, men of otherwise good character and otherwise likable were tempted into a transgression… a transgression that the increasingly sanctimonious public can never see itself as having committed in the same circumstances.

    it’s a tough mirror to look into, but I think much more of it needs to take place before we can really move on from this.

  15. Joe Lindsey

    Hi Patrick,

    Thanks for the response.

    Yes, I agree that larger publications have more resources; they’re also more attractive when someone has a big secret they want to share. Why did Jonathan Vaughters pick The New York Times for his confession and not a publication like Bicycling or VeloNews? Simple circulation, I believe.

    That 2004 column was a web-only piece because a substantial part of Bicycling’s competitive cycling coverage is web-only; always has been. Other than print previews, racing-related coverage doesn’t factor much in the magazine because of the three-month lead time. And, online, you can do the kind of volume and frequency you can’t in print. If we’d put Armstrong/doping stories in print with the kind of frequency I wrote about online, we’d be “Lance Armstrong Doping” magazine, not Bicycling, right? Readers want and deserve more balance than that.

    So the obvious answer then is to save it all up for that one, big hard-hitting piece, right? Well, sure. If you can get it. Quite simply, I couldn’t make it happen. I’m in broad company there.

    You mention “that set of publishers” didn’t get the job done. I would point out that no journalist, not Damien Ressiot of l’Equipe or even Walsh and Ballester, ever produced the kind of overwhelming evidence that USADA did. Speaking of legal investigations, not only did the US criminal one fizzle out, so did OCLAESP and, before them, the French Ministry for Sport in the Actovegin investigation. Honestly, Ressiot’s 2005 piece was about the best thing written prior to 2010. But because Lance had retired, most U.S. media didn’t really care about it.

    As for USADA, they are to be commended for an exceptional job. But we should also remember that even though they did not get any evidence from the federal investigation, the affidavits signed all mention that the riders are telling the truth under threat of criminal perjury charges for lying. That’s not a power any journalist has, and for good reason.

    I know you didn’t set out to throw Bicycling, or me, or cycling publications in general, under the bus. But Madden’s story caught me a little broadside because, as I wrote in the Boulder Report today, it sure as hell wasn’t reflective of my experience. I could have done better, for sure. Lots of us could have. Criticism for not being able to get the story is fair. But I do want people to know that I never sat on evidence, and never once considered that it somehow wasn’t “my job” to look into this.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Joe: First, let me back up and say that in writing about Bicycling, I was referring, rather strictly, to the print publication. I make clear when I’m writing about Bicycling‘s web site, and while both are very well done, they are very different products. Your on-line work isn’t something that can help characterize what Bicycling’s print publication is.

      My point on bigger publications isn’t just one of circulation, it’s resources. It goes back to your mention of the excellent pieces you did for Men’s Journal and Outside. There’s not an English-speaking bike magazine that can keep a staffer or freelancer on a story the way a large magazine or newspaper can.

      If there IS a criticism I think Bicycling is ripe for from that period of time is that they wanted to have it both ways. It’s easy to say that racing news isn’t covered in the magazine, but honestly, there was a dissonance between what you were doing and all the rah-rah Lance pieces that were on the cover back then … which I do think is reflective of my point about how endemic bike mags see their mission, do their job.

  16. Rod

    @blair

    You wrote:

    Tell me you didn’t just say it would be okay if someone died as long as you got your sports memories back…

    I’m not sure I understand this statement. I was criticizing Madden’s editorial stance which justifies not investigating Armstrong because, amongst other things, he provided hope to cancer victims. As much as I think Livestrong provides a valuable service, I also think people do good and bad things, the former should be lauded and the latter disciplined.

    At no point I argued whether Armstrong’s investigation and suspensions were fair or not (I fully support WADA and USADA). My criticism was that Madden’s position is very comfortable: don’t publish anything that may upset the advertisers, distribution, or revenue – and compared it to a PR department as opposed to journalism.

    Someone wittier than me posted in another comment that he wondered if after LA’s decision came through cancer survival rates dropped…

  17. Evan Shaw

    A possible very touchy but IMPORTANT way we might still be conned by Monsewer Armstrong.

    Stay with me here please. Destructive narcissistic people are charismatic, manipulative, and highly adept at appearing to be altruistic and caring people serving others in dramatic and powerful ways. While actually it is all about their own superiority, grandiosity, power, and control.

    One of their most powerful and successful tactics is to use people in various ways to neutralize them by buying them off, getting them to go along and do wrong things, etc. Such as offering Frankie Andreu an assistant job so he would not tell.

    But the entire Livestrong Foundation is entirely a grandiose self serving device for Armstrong to get millions of people hooked on his hero myth and to service him financially to the effect that today he has fooled many of us still into thinking he has done much bad but much good.

    I am going to say a few tough things here. They are NOT disparaging nor blaming cancer victims, survivors, nor families.(I am one myself). Armstrong took massive doping products several of which are KNOWN to accelerate unchecked cell growth prior to getting cancer. Although he may have gotten cancer independently from this massive negative influence, and I am not blaming anyone for getting cancer in any way, it is very important to be clear about who he was and is. The myth is damaging to us and to cancer survivors.

    He was the most negative role model for cancer survivors and patients possible. He denied his cancer while at the same time pumping in the drugs. He was amazingly lucky with advanced cancer to have a form that caught early has a relatively great rate of recovery but as advanced could be survivable.

    The bald truth of cancer is that courage, positive imagery, and will power do nothing. Amazing people die of it and criminals survive it. He did nothing that should be given as empowerment and aware help, such as buddy checks, early detection, diet, getting the best care, a national health care system with access for all and competent.

    Following his cancer, he massively trashed his body in the same ways. It is still possible that he had damaged himself and will again increase the risk dramatically for a reoccurrence or subsequent cancer.

    He should have called it Livewrong.

    The main point, however, is that it is a fallacy he did this because he cares. But this seems like such a nasty view. It is the MOST likely and a very very likely accurate conclusion given the entire length and breadth of what we really know about him! This was done to mask and make impossible anyone coming after him. Listen to his 2005 deposition. He says as much about what would happen if he admits. It is a twisted answer meant to deceive. However, one can hear it. It is him admitting he is conning us with this organization. It is about him not them.
    Con men don’t attempt to do good to offset bad. They do it to add to their superiority. Sad? No, terrible!

    I say don’t fall for it. Get that organization to get him off the board. Get them to give to research. But please stop giving him a pass the journalists are still falling for this ploy.

  18. Craig Gaulzetti

    Patrick,
    Bicycling magazine is the only American periodical devoted to cycling read by anyone who is not somehow in the cycling industry.It’s reach dwarfs any other publication and any blog. Equating it to People Magazine is absurd. Journalists like Mr. Lindsay, Mr. Strickland and others bring a morality,.an intellectual vigor and a journalistic integrity I see no where else in American cycling specific journalism. Almost every other publication is an excercise in romantic sentimentality for an ignorant and lazy view of a sport or a poor advertorial based on a press release and an active attempt to impart meaning and value to a professional sporting good used as a plaything.

    Bicycling is not perfect. But it.is not People Magazine either. It’s the best publication we American cyclists have and I’m glad it exists and I’m glad that it exercises the journalistic Prudence and passion it does.

  19. Paul

    @Joe Lindsey — I have you blog bookmarked, it’s the only part of Bicycling that I read regularly. You’re up there on my must read list with RKP, Podium Cafe and The Inner Ring. Keep up the good work !

  20. fausto

    The argument on Steve Madden is as complex as the rest of this whole affair. Just like I respected the hard work of Big George and he seemed nice vs. a bully, he did the same drugs and took his pay from the king d-bag. If he rode for someone else during that time period in Euroland, he very well may have done the same, it was obviosly in his character. Bicycling, Trek, Nike, Velonews, the co-authors of the LA books, your local Trek dealer/shop, many made money off of this. Some new alot, some had an idea but choose to believe in the money fairy. In the end, even though the sport is once again in the pro wrestling ring, I still will click in and dream of the roads, the sacrafice, the sensations that make the ride fun.

  21. Joe Lindsey

    Craig – my heartfelt thanks for your compliment, the moreso as you typed it on your phone!

    Patrick – Bicycling.com may be distinct from the magazine for you, but it’s not for me. They’re both part of the same brand.

    As for the issue of resources at various size magazines, I would note that Bicycling had Christie Aschwanden working on her profile of Tyler Hamilton (“Believe?”) for over six months. Might’ve been closer to nine, even.

    Perhaps Bicycling wanted to have it both ways – to put Lance on the cover to sell magazines even as I questioned him online. But is that not better than mindlessly drinking the Kool-Aid without questioning at all?

  22. Bill Strickland

    Those who judge the quality of Bicycling solely or primarily through its coverage of doping remind me a little bit of single-issue voters — people who cast a ballot for a president based exclusively on what the candidate thinks about, for instance (and to pick one of the least controversial topics so this comment doesn’t get the thread hijacked by political extremists) wilderness oil drilling.

    How, why, when, and the extent to which Bicycling — and I on my own — missed or hit the doping story is a conversation for which I don’t mind taking knocks; I think it’s a worthwhile criticism (though, too often, as with most anything related to the entire topic and as happened here to some extent, instead of a discussion it turns into a shouting match of long-worn-in positions). But . . .

    A National-Magazine-Award-winning story about the slaughter of cyclists on American roads (which I committed internal accounting hijinks to be able to afford), an 8,000-word piece on asphalt (a length for which I had to apologize to various VPs for), numerous selections over many years for inclusion in Best American Sports Writing (the only cycling-endemic magazine or web site to accomplish this, as far as I can tell), a story reprinted in Utne that coined a term for how sociologists worldwide describe a class of cyclist . . .

    Broken: http://www.bicycling.com/news/advocacy/broken

    The Impossible Redemption of Jonathan Boyer: http://www.tourdefranceinformation.com/article/0,6610,s1-3-9-18493-1,00.html

    Paging Dr. Ferrari: http://www.2009tourdefrancenews.com/tourdefrance/article/0,6802,s-3-12-13773-1,00.html

    I Believe…: http://www.2009tourdefrancenews.com/article/0,6610,s-4-9-16564-3,00.html

    The Everyday Miracle: http://www.bicycling.com/bikes-gear/bikes-and-gear-features/everyday-miracle

    Whatever Happened to Greg LeMond?: http://www.bicycling.com/news/featured-stories/whatever-happened-greg-lemond

    The Italian Job: http://www.bicycling.com/news/featured-stories/italian-job

    Invisible Riders: http://www.utne.com/2006-07-01/InvisibleRiders.aspx

    That’s a short list, off the top of my head and only those I could easily find in searches. Those stories are by writers at the top of the profession, practicing levels of journalism not found with this frequency in any other cycling publication, and at lengths not found in many magazines of any type anywhere today. Other writers we’ve worked with: Mark Levine, Hampton Sides, Susan Orlean, Mary Roach, Tracy Ross.

    I understand, I think, what Patrick meant with his comparison between People & Bicycling, and in some strict aspect I agree — like People, we try to cover an entire culture (in our case, the culture of cycling). But given the nature and ambition of our commitment to long-form storytelling, the characterization is way off. I think if People and The New Yorker had a one-night-stand and the child grew up to love cycling beyond any reason or sense, that’d be us.

    Bill S.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Joe: I’m with you that it was better for Bicycling to publish your work while simultaneously running the Lance booster pieces than not to chase the story at all. However, to the degree that some readers weren’t aware of your work, precisely because it was online and not in the magazine, I think contributes to the broader perception that the bike media weren’t chasing the story more transparently. I respect I’ve touched a nerve with you, but I’ll reiterate that you and your work really weren’t a part of my critique of the situation. You’ve conflated two things that are very separate in my mind and the minds of a great many others. Again, I’m sorry I’ve offended you, but I believe you’ve read it in a manner other than it was intended.

      Bill: Thanks for dropping by; I really appreciate it.

      Both you and Joe bring up an important point vis-a-vis Bicycling‘s long-form features. You have more than adequate justification to thump your chest as the only English-language cycling magazine that is consistently running 6000 to 8000 word features, not to mention getting awards for them. For the folks playing at home, I should mention that I’ve queried Bicycling a few times to see if I might interest them in allowing me to chase such a piece. No dice, so far.

      So that distinction isn’t lost on me. Perhaps the comparison was a little too facile (I do like the idea of a love child between People and The New Yorker.

  23. Joe S

    This essay and the comments that follow all exemplify the great analysis and critical dialog that make this site one of my favorites. Thank you, Patrick. And everyone else.

  24. Evan

    Very fine discussion! The dialogue and many of the contributors here are fantastic!

    My two cents about this complex subject. It has never been easy to have muckraking journalism sell for profit. Instead we get Fox News, Hate radio, etc. Which is not journalism but a cover of journalism with propaganda lurking.

    AS Upton Sinclair said it well, It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

    Or in this context, to run a magazine when both the publisher, ad revenue and public have all aligned to not want to know something.

    Courage is sometimes defined as the willingness to see the obvious when there is a very high price to be paid to do so.

  25. blair

    Mr. Strickland, I don’t judge Bicycling on a single issue like doping because I never even considered the idea that a magazine like Bicycling would cover it. I’ve just gone and read the “Whatever happened to Greg Lemond” piece, and Armstrong is mentioned about a dozen times in it, of course with doping mentioned right alongside almost every time. It strikes me as obvious now that anyone who would write or publish that piece should have gotten the idea to assign an investigative piece to dig up what’s really behind Lemond’s animosity. But instead the magazine just let it sit there, resting on a suggestion that he might be right but had no evidence, or that he might be wrong and was simply jealous that he was being eclipsed as the most famous participant from a nation that barely knows how his sport even works. But I digress. The point is that I find everything in Bicycling to be as shallow as it can get away with; even an 8,000-word piece on asphalt, which in its banal concept and its 3-inch-thick subject matter and its suit-worrying expense is so symbolic of an immersive commitment to shallowness that it almost moves me to poetry. I’ll at least spare us that.

  26. Joe Lindsey

    Patrick,

    Thanks again for the reply.

    I realize that you hold Bicycling.com and the print version separately here. My point is that most people don’t. Bicycling is a brand – whether it’s the print version, online, the Facebook page and Twitter feed, or some asshat in Boulder who goes really slow on a bicycle while wearing a blindingly bright Rainbow Warrior magazine kit.

    That’s what concerned me about Steve Madden’s piece; he may have accurately described his own experience, but in doing so he tarred everyone who writes under the Bicycling name because he used “we” and not “I.” That, simply, wasn’t fair, because it wasn’t the experience I lived writing and reporting on pro racing for them – ever, by the way – not then or now.

    If I’m guilty of something, it’s that I wasn’t a good enough journalist to get “the story.” But I would thoroughly reject the idea – even implied by Madden through the inclusive pronoun – that I ignored the story or, worse, knew but consciously withheld facts I could have reported.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Blair: Jeez dude, that was civil enough, I suppose, and even kinda funny in a way, but Bill was decent enough to stop by our little backwater. Is it too much to ask that maybe we at least be kinda cordial? I may not love every word published in the magazine, but I think it’s better than you’re giving credit.

      Joe: If nothing else, I’m grateful to have such an illuminating dialog publicly. It’s a great chance to see where our views the world differ and the RKP readers benefit from getting a better view of behind-the-scenes. While I think that a great many readers think of Bicycling first and foremost as a magazine, there’s no doubt that each presence you mentioned are all part of the larger brand; I can’t contest that.

      I can see how the broad brush Madden painted with would piss off any of Bicycling’s staff or contributors; I don’t blame you that. His choice of pronoun was poor; I don’t think his piece would have lost any relevance for me had he used “I” and it would have resulted in a good deal less collateral damage.

      I’m not going to entertain the idea that you weren’t good enough to get the story. Similarly, I know your work well enough to have faith that you were chasing it to the best of your ability, which is why I don’t have to say “Keep it up.” I know you will.

      Robot: Thanks for that.

  27. Robot

    You know, it’s been a pretty tough week on planet bicycle if you care about pro racing. I think we need to be a little careful not to eat our own young over this whole thing. That is all.

  28. Pingback: Where are the 'journalists' in cycling? - Page 4

  29. Tom Arsenault

    I honestly haven’t read Bicycling for a long long time. Mostly, because I was focused on racing, and there are better magazines and websites out there for that kind of coverage. I will go back, on the suggestion of Mr. (see I can use it too!!) Strickland, and check out the articles he cited in this comments section, and for that, thanks! I look forward to being wrong about the kind of writing that is contained within Bicycling. No, seriously, I do. Especially, when it is good writing. Which again, is something I look forward to.

    After reading through the comments here over the last couple of days (which have been great, and probably the best internet comments I’ve seen in awhile on something like this) I completely understand the reasons behind why the story about doping wasn’t chased. It has given me some additional insight into what goes into the production of magazine such as Bicycling, and other endemic periodicals of the sort.

    I think all too often, many of us, want our journalists in cycling to hunt down stories like the Armstrong doping story, and we don’t THINK about what puts a paycheck into someone’s pocket. We want you guys to “get after it” because we think that’s what’s killing the sport (and it is, but I digress). Many of us, or rather, all of us, don’t produce magazines. We don’t write for magazines. We don’t know what it takes. I could tell you how to write a Quality Engineering Plan and Control Plan on how to produce, well, just about anything, but I can’t write a magazine story.

    I will open my eyes further, and remember what it does take.

  30. Chris Salsman

    Just want to pitch my two cents in…

    Padraig,
    This is a great article, and a reminder of why I’ve loved RKP for such a long time. I love your honesty and how you explain things in ways that make sense for so many people. Your journalism, I could imagine, if read by non-cyclists, could be that catalyst you describe to increase our ranks.

    Thank you.

  31. brian ledford

    From my point of view, until the reasoned decision came out, the evidence against Armstrong was balanced (at least) by the official position of the UCI. And it seemed ridiculous that a brash arrogant ass of an american was going to get special treatment from a traditional european sport. And Landis’ 2006 seemed to reinforce that perspective; if they were willing to go after Landis on really skethy evidence, why shouldn’t they have gone after armstrong? Also, the brazenness of armstrong re:PEDs seemed insane: only a crazy person would let that many people know, so there had to be something wrong with those accounts. Obviously, in retrospect, there are tons of bad assumptions there. But I’l add another vote to the “not really a story pre reasoned decision” pile. I’m not sure I reading another version of the collected rumors/gossip would have changed many minds. I’m not sure I’d have read it.

  32. Khal Spencer

    The problem I see is that when most major US sources turn a blind eye to serious allegations of misconduct, it gives the public the sense that these allegations are in fact not strongly supported. Kinda circular, but if the stuff most people read ignores the truth, then the truth isn’t the truth. Applies in politics as well as cycling. Nice job on the article, Padraig, and thank you.

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