A Story Quashed: One small example of Lance Armstrong’s reach

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Editor’s Note: I’ve previously made the case that endemic cycling publications were ill-equipped to chase the full-scope of the allegations against Lance Armstrong. Contributor Charles Pelkey told me of a piece he wrote that was first published on VeloNews.com in February 2009. The piece was a minor news update on a lawsuit filed in a British court by Betsy Andreu, wife of former U.S. Postal rider, Frankie Andreu. Within minutes of it being posted, Armstrong contacted management at the magazine and said that if the story were to remain on the site he would deny access to himself and his team by any member of VeloNews staff during the upcoming Tour of California. The story was subsequently pulled.

It’s a relatively benign story, reported in other media outlets, but the incident illustrates the hurdles the media faced in dealing with Armstrong.

Padraig

 

British paper reaches settlement with Betsy Andreu

Britain’s Guardian newspaper has reached an out-of-court settlement with American Betsy Andreu over comments Lance Armstrong made about her in November.

By Charles Pelkey
February 14, 2009

The wife of former U.S. Postal rider Frankie Andreu has reached an out-of-court settlement with Britain’s Guardian newspaper in a libel case stemming from comments Lance Armstrong made about her in a November interview with reporter Donald McRae.

In the interview, McRae suggested that Betsy Andreu had lied about a now-infamous conversation Armstrong is said to have had with doctors treating him for cancer in 1996, in which she alleged that he admitted using performance-enhancing drugs. McRae wrote about Andreu’s allegation using a transition sentence that began “other people, apparently, also lied about Armstrong.”

That portion of the story was followed by a quote from Armstrong who recommended that the interviewer “go online and, to this day, Betsy blogs 24 hours a day about me. If that ain’t sick, what is?”

Following the November publication of the article, Andreu began legal action against the paper, demanding an apology, the opportunity to publish a response and damages, to be awarded to charities of her choice.

In a January letter to Andreu and her attorneys both in the U.S. and Great Britain, the paper acknowledged the validity of the claim and agreed to pay her attorneys’ fees as well as make $5000 in charitable donations on her behalf.

“It’s obviously not about the money,” Andreu told VeloNews. “I have asked that any cash settlement be paid not to me, but to charities of my choice: The Lennon Center, a local charity whose mission is to provide nonjudgmental counseling, material assistance and counseling before, during and after pregnancy; and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

“The whole thing is about getting the truth out and not letting people misrepresent who and what you are,” she added. “I told the truth and, in case you’re wondering, never have blogged … about him or anyone for that matter.”

The paper also removed the passages in question from an online version of the story and included an apology.

“We apologize to Betsy Andreu for comments made about her in this interview,” the paper noted. “She has asked us to clarify that, while evidence that she gave in proceedings about an insurance claim brought by Lance Armstrong is disputed, she honestly recounted what she believed she had heard.”

Andreu’s letter to the paper was published on Monday of this week.

Media attorney Razi Mireskandari, who represented Andreu in Britain, said he and his client are satisfied with the outcome of the case.

“”My client will not countenance the suggestion made in the Guardian article that she is lying when she says she heard Lance Armstrong telling doctors treating him for cancer that he had taken performance-enhancing drugs,” Mireskandari said. “She was in the room, as was Frankie Andreu, and they both heard what he said. They both told the truth on oath and no amount of denials or attacks will change their testimony. The Guardian apologized, regretted suggesting otherwise and paid an agreed sum to charities of my client’s choice and her legal costs.”

Calls to attorneys representing the Guardian had not been returned as of the time this story was originally posted.

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28 comments

  1. Reid Neureiter

    What is funny about the editorial decision to yank this article based on Lance’s threats of no access, is that the threat itself was pretty important and intriguing news. I certainly would have reas such a story with interest. And yet here was are–more than three years later before we (the peon cycling fan public) get the story of Lance’s intimidation tactics. I don’t understand how he was allowed to get away with that crap. When regular sports writers are treated that way by stars, baseball, football, the word gets out that the athlete is a tool, a jerk, pick whatever word you like. The balloon gets popped. It woudl be a fascinating Journalism school exercise to trace exactly how manipulated the sports world’s press corps was by Lance and his troop of thugs.

  2. Josh Gipper

    This threat had publications scrubbing their article comments as well. I made a rather benign reference to Armstrong and doping in ~2008 on Cyclingnews and received an email a week later explaining that comments like mine would not be tolerated. The cited the threat of legal retaliation as the reason for it being scrubbed.

  3. Alex TC

    The more I learn, the more shocked I get. One must have a real Big Brother structure to keep track of everything as he did. It had to come down one day or another, it´s all the more impressive that it took this long. It´s amazing what he acomplished for all these years (and I don´t mean in a positive way but still…).

  4. radiator zeke

    Padraig-
    This is not a benign story, it’s an excellent illustration of how wimpy the American cycling press were during Armstrong’s reign. The European press jumped over the “hurdles” and got at the truth, while the American press crawled under the hurdles and got access. Your boy Wilcockson sold his soul for access. Sally Jenkins is still proud of her work and still thinks Armstrong is a great guy. Armen Keteyian is currently Chief Investigative Correspondent for CBS News, but didn’t cover anything worth watching during his time at the Tour. And don’t get me started on Ligget, who is an absolute disgrace (and perhaps the most overrated broadcaster in the history of sports). Sorry to get negative – I like RKP and Velonews, but if the American “journalists” did their job we wouldn’t be waiting to watch freakin’ Oprah.

    1. Padraig

      Radiator Zeke: No one suggests the Pelkey piece was benign; I said it was minor, which it is in the grand scheme. On a different note, bear in mind that the European press that first published accounts of Armstrong’s doping were non-endemics, not cycling-exclusive. The European cycling magazines were no more effective in ferreting out the truth on Armstrong than were their American counterparts.

  5. Nick

    Thanks for bringing that to light. With reports like this, it’s beginning to seem more unfair that the riders are the focus of so much. So many people want an apology from Lance. This article leaves me wanting an confession, apology, and commitment to ethical journalism from Velonews.

  6. Evan

    Padraig, it is not factually accurate to conclude the european press as you say ferreting out the truth not effective. Kimmage, Walsh, and leEquipe were true investigators let alone investigative journalists. L’Equipe remember discovered the French research lab that created the test for EPO and got UCI to hand over the 1999 TDF racing doping cards with all the riders numbers on it. They matched it to the research lab, a true blind research design and found 6 severely positive EPO results of LA. Walsh with his weekly pieces and books virtually wrote the USADA 1000 page report.

    The silence of the American press and I know you want civility here, and John Wilcockson, rode that gravy train. Yes, there were consequences. As Betsy would say however, anything less than the truth is a lie. I have been faced with dire choices in my life. Fortunately like Betsy had parents who showed me better to leave a profession or tell the truth but not become an accomplice and profit. And JW certainly did. Not right.

    This includes Oprah, who promotes herself as a truth teller, but has gotten fame by associating with the rich and famous but NOT asking the hard questions. As Betsy says, even a year ago with Armstrong under Fed investigation she interviewed him and zero questions about the investigation. Now, it serves her to revamp her career to interview him. Shame really.

    1. Padraig

      Everyone: Thanks for your comments.

      Ben: Betsy Andreu isn’t “a hero for spilling her guts about a friend’s deathbed confession.” She didn’t, to use your term, spill her guts, which suggests she told the story indiscriminately. She was called upon to testify under oath. She could easily have lied and avoided any conflict with Armstrong; instead she followed her conscience and never, ever backed down, when simply recanting her story would have been easier for her and for her husband’s career. Telling the truth and maintaining truth caused Frankie Andreu to lose multiple jobs. She’s a hero because she never backed down.

      Evan: You completely misunderstood my introduction. My assertion was that the dirt on Armstrong was reported by journalists at non-endemic publications, i.e., newspapers. European endemic magazines, like Velo and Bike, did nothing to contribute to what we learned about Armstrong’s doping. Kimmage, Walsh and Ressiot all worked for publications that fall outside of the bike biz—again, non-endemics—unlike VeloNews. So, yes, my comment was factually accurate, to use your terminology.

      Evan, I’m curious what you would have us do, that is, those of us who employ people who didn’t fight Armstrong. It’s easy for you to criticize from the sidelines and suggest that you’ve faced terrible choices; we’ll have to take your word. What troubles me is it sounds as though you’re suggesting Wilcockson shouldn’t be employed. And in the grand scheme, I’ll assert that John’s transgression, such as you may find it, is far less significant than what Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen did. I’m wondering how much time you spend on the NBC Universal site calling them out for playing lapdogs to Lance. Are you simply calling out Wilcockson because RKP gives you a platform to do so or are you going after all the journalists you believe sinned against cycling?

      Pat O’Brien: From my seat, I’d say it already has. There have been a number of very hostile comments here on RKP, some directed at me, but most reserved for John Wilcockson. Given that RKP was never close with Armstrong the way VeloNews and Bicycling were, I suspect we’re getting off a bit lighter than they will. The cycling media does deserve some criticism, but I think the public also needs to understand that Armstrong was a Goliath of an opponent and it’s worth considering that nearly everyone, when given the choice to lock horns with Armstrong or back down, backed down. I’ll continue to maintain, even though some of my colleagues disagree, that endemic publications here in the U.S. were never going to break the story of Armstrong’s doping—again, I said break, not report; there’s a big difference between breaking a story and just reporting on what someone else has reported. Sure, there’s a question of resources, but the bigger issue is that no magazine wanted to be in the breach alone. Fundamentally, chasing Armstrong was a quest for someone outside of the bike industry, both in terms of resources and independence. Walsh, Kimmage and Ressiot did remarkable work, but very few took it seriously. To really crack the story open required a combination of both Floyd Landis and Travis Tygart.

  7. Pat O'Brien

    Padraig, the current hate fest going on might spread to cycling press. It isn’t right, but it might happen, and collateral damage is always ugly. The 24 hour news cycle is running full throttle now on this story, and cycling fans, and many of the public at large, are out for blood. Check out the interview of Rob Arnold on ABC News 24. He is worried about the effect on the cycling press, and so am I.

  8. sagitarius

    Lance stated Betsy Andreu “blogs 24 hours a day about me”. Andreu replies “I..never have blogged…about him or anyone for that matter”. Who is the LIAR here? Depends on your defintion of “blogs” & “blogging”.

    By strict interpretation, ‘to blog’ means writing on your OWN blogsite. However, is it not more commonly defined as writing anywhere on the internet? Since 2006, I have personally seen Betsy Andreu’s comments on the Daily Peloton cycling forum & in the comment sections of Bicycling.com & Velonews.com. I think but am no longer certain she also chimed in at the Podium Cafe site. And I think I remember at least one “opinion” piece.

    Lance’s statement was an exageration for effect. Andreu’s was at best an obfuscation.

  9. Jesus from Cancun

    They were talking about it in all nationwide radio news in Mexico too.
    But the opinions I have heard have been surprisingly supportive in general.

    I’ve been growing curious as Thursday comes close. It will be played in Mexico by Discovery Channel. I don’t know what will I get from it, but I will watch. Why not?

    By the way, I stopped visiting VeloNews since they got rid of Pelkey. It seems like I haven’t missed much.
    They could have had a great story if they had chosen to publish the article anyway, and also publish Armstrong’s threat to “not be accessible” for them. Can you imagine a VeloNews vs. Armstrong feud in 2009? Now it’s L’Equipe who can say “I told yaaaa”.

  10. gmknobl

    This happens in other sports and in other areas of life too. The threat of action against someone or some organization snuffs out the free exchange of ideas or opinions. This is worse now than it ever has been since the Gilded Age, i.m.o.

    Once people start getting away with this thing, usually monied people or organizations, then you can bet free exchange is very low, the populace is cowed and kept in the dark and things are not very good for people in general.

    Sure, people don’t like being lied about but lying people REALLY don’t like it because they have something to fear more than others. It’s very hard to walk “in the light.”

  11. Reid N.

    Padraig,

    As far as Wilcockson goes, I have a somewhat personal stake in the issue (admittedly very small). When “Lance, the Making of the World’s Greatest Champion,” was published, I took the time after work to go to Mr. Wilcockson’s book reading/signing at the famous downtown Denver Tattered Cover bookstore. He had been given inside access to Lance, and had reported on the Tour and cycling for decades. I was excited and interested to hear what this clearly intelligent cycling expert had to say. Questions were taken from the audience, and I asked the question about doping. Wilcockson’s answer, delivered if memory serves after the slightest of pauses, was something to the effect of, “I believe Lance is clean.” He straight up lied to us. He knew. He had to know. So he was not just silent. He was not writing articles that were then removed under threats from Lance. To the contrary, like Sally Jenkins (but maybe worse, because he actually knew cycling), Wilcockson became an integral part of Lance’s public relations effort, a public relations effort that managed to make life very difficult for the courageous few who did speak out. Not sure what the punishment should be. Clearly a man has to make a living. Maybe losing forever one’s professional credibility is punishment enough.

    1. Padraig

      Reid N: In my dealings with John I’ve had the sense that he truly chooses to see the best in people, even when other evidence is more than enough for most of us. I can’t tell you not to personalize what he told you as a lie to you, but it is what he says to everyone. I hope you can understand that to the best of my knowledge he has maintained a very sunny outlook on some riders who don’t deserve his good will. And while John has always seen cycling’s best side, Sally Jenkins has in the past been a hard-hitting sports writer, but turned it off deliberately and vehemently to protect Armstrong. I find her work offensive the way I find Liggett and Sherwen’s condemnation of Landis, USADA and others offensive.

    1. Padraig

      Walter: Not to us. I should hasten to add, I’m not looking to put anyone at Velo in the hot seat. The story isn’t about how they caved to pressure from Armstrong; rather, it’s about the lengths Armstrong went and the amount of pressure he would apply.

  12. Matt Greene

    I think what this story shows is that, because of Mr Armstrong’s notorious litigious nature, it created a climate whereby journalists (and their newspaper editors and lawyers) found it easier to doubt people other than him. I’m a little surprised that Andreu sued, but then again, I’m equally surprised that The Guardian took the line they did in the first place.

  13. Evan

    Padraig,

    I get you don’t agree with me. And you threatened to kick me off here. So I leave. I would like to have people who rode that gravy train and profited at least make a complete and total apology and make some amends of some kind. Others who did not gave up those profits to John W.

    I feel you are rationalizing by saying simply he looked at the good side of folks. Yes we can all do that, but if we had lots of Walsh evidence to show us the way, and became friends with the people we cover, and made allot of money off of our not looking, at the very least don’t issue a totally rationalized minimized justified not really apology, and cover the heck out of how to save cycling here forward not fluff articles saying it is all better.

    Yes I have been a social activist as has my family at least those not murdered in the holocaust and afterwards. And yes I have been active with Jaimie Fuller bunch and racing and promoting and a youth cycling team etc. And after the NBC SI crowd to challenge them.

    I am not after punishment not judgment, simply compassionate accountability, amends and atonement.

    Peace and be well, goodbye

    1. Padraig

      Evan: The issue for me isn’t about agreement. You said something I wrote was “factually inaccurate,” which was, itself, inaccurate and I responded to assert that what I said was absolutely true.

      You can second-guess me and suggest I’m rationalizing for John’s benefit. I’ve got no reason to lie on John’s behalf, and even less reason to lie to the readers of RKP. What I wrote is absolutely my experience of dealing with John.

      You say you want amends from journalists like Wilcockson who profited from Armstrong. While I can’t speak for others, I can say that John did publish an apology piece on Peloton Magazine’s site. If that’s not enough for you, I think you’ll need to take that up with him.

  14. Nick

    Given the conversation above, it seems if nothing else that journalists should take part in the transparency that we’re expecting of riders from that era. In some ways the choices that journalists and riders were asked to face were very similar. For many riders it was dope or have no chance of winning, possibly ending your career. For journos it was clam up or be shut out, possibly ending your career. I’d love to see journalists come to the table of any truth and reconciliation commission to talk about their experiences and silence.

    Accountability is a funny business.

  15. Dave H.

    sagitarius:

    Based on Betsy’s quote from the Velonews story that was pulled, I’d agree her “never blogged” was an obfuscation. That disappointed me, as she’s always seemed to be an absolute straight shooter.

    But then I read Betsy’s letter to the Guardian which was linked in the article:

    She wrote, “Mr Armstrong attacked me again in the interview by stating, “But go online and, to this day, Betsy blogs 24 hours a day about me. If that ain’t sick, what is?” I suppose I should laugh given that, although I have contributed to online discussions, I’ve never had a blog in my life.”

    So she acknowledges posting on comments sections, forums, etc. No obfuscation there.

    And Nick, very true about the choices that journalists and riders were asked to face being very similar.

    1. Padraig

      Andrew: Thanks much. VeloPress has been very supportive of RKP. And we’re big fans of theirs. They’ve published a lot of great, sometimes indispensable, books.

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