Lance Armstrong

Read the following line of inquiry and the student's response. Apply the assessment criteria and discuss the marks that you would award the script before reading the examiner's marks and comments. How different were your marks and comments from the examiner's marks and comments? What improvements could be made to this student's response, in order to achieve better results?

To what degree are the communication techniques of Lance Armstrong inadequate in expressing remorse in his interview with Oprah Winfrey?

In a 2013 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs throughout his cycling career. This sent total shock around the world because he had denied allegations so vigorously in the years before. Millions of viewers expected Armstrong to show sorrow, remorse and regret in the interview. The interview, however, could not have been more disappointing for them. This raises the question: To what degree are the communication techniques of Lance Armstrong inadequate in expressing remorse in his interview with Oprah Winfrey? Through a careful study of Armstrong’s use of diction, body language, fillers and verb tense, one can understand why his confession was not appreciated by viewers. 

Five years after the interview, Lance Armstrong gave another interview on the podcast Freakonomics, in which he was asked what he had thought of the Oprah interview at the time. He was surprised that people had been so critical of his interview. He claimed that while the interview was never going to be easy, he was happy with his performance and was “high fiving” Oprah after the show. He said it was impossible to please fans anyways. This kind of attitude is what got him into trouble with fans in 2013. No one felt he was being sincere with his apologies. Why was this? 

First of all, it is clear throughout the interview from Lance’ body language that he is a competitive person. After he gets through Oprah’s simple yes/no questions that ask him to tell the truth about his lies, he begins to claim that his doping scheme was not as wide spread or complicated as East Germany’s schemes in the 1980s. Oprah warns him that fans will not be happy with an “everyone was doing it” line of argument, but this is exactly what he does. He talks about a culture of doping and a generation of cyclists who were doing the same as he was doing. He defines ‘cheating’ as a means which give someone an unfair advantage. In the context of the Tour de France, where everyone was doing it, he does not feel that “cheating” is the most appropriate word. Furthermore he is almost boastful about the fact that he passed each drug test, as a sign that he was smarter than the system. He sits with a wide crossed leg, which makes him look quite powerful as he says these things. His body language throughout the interview shows power and not regret, as if he is still in a battle to win. In fact he smirks between questions, almost to suggest that he is proud that he got away with it for so long. 

Secondly he uses fillers throughout the interview which make his confession much worse. Fillers are sounds like ‘uhm’ or ‘like’ which allow him to think aloud. Every time he is given an opportunity to express regret, he is reluctant to do so. Instead he takes more time than necessary to say words like “sorry”. His answers are always hedged, saying thing like “that depends...” Some things are black and white, like telling the truth and lying and he almost seems to be making up lies on the show because he seems to be making everything up as he goes. When asked if he regretted suing Emma O’Reilly, who made public accusations against him, his first response is “uh, well, honestly, I sued so many people so yeah I can’t say sorry to everyone.” These answers are unconvincing to say the least. The fillers are particularly worrisome. 

It is also clear from the interview that the interview was scripted to some extent, though he goes off script regularly. Oprah asks about how fame is like a magnifying glass, blowing up both his good and bad qualities, such as being a “humanitarian” or a “jerk”. He says that Oprah took the words out of his mouth, which cannot be true. Oprah seems to set him up for emotional moments, in which he should be able to show regret or remorse, but his choice of words is very curious. He continuously refers to his “flaws” or imperfections, which make his mistakes seem minor. He adds that everyone is “flawed” which seems to rationalise his choices. He claims that his “ruthless desire to win” made him lie. He constantly blames other factors for his lying, dodging responsibility. For example, when asked if he was a “bully”, he says a clear “yes,” as Oprah had told him to say before, but then he adds that suffering from cancer made him a fierce competitor, which in turn made him into a “bully.” Oprah, fortunately, shoots down this line of logic, and states that he had been accused of bullying people and taking EPO before his battle with testicular cancer. This is why his use of diction is very suspicious throughout the interview. 

Finally, Lance Armstrong uses verbs in a curious way throughout the interview. When he speaks in the first person there are examples of ‘meta-talk’ in which he tells himself why he is doing what he is doing: “I am here to say I’m sorry” or “we promised ‘no holds barred’ in this interview and that’s what I’m doing.” He also speaks about himself in the third person on several occasions, which is rather strange and devious because it distances himself from his crimes. When he is asked to comment on other people, he declares that he does not want to use names. So he begins by saying “There are people in this story and there are good people and bad people,” which is an atrocious way to answer a question about his relations with the Doctor Ferrari, the notorious ‘doping doctor’. He also speaks about the scandals surrounding him as a thing or separate entity that he did not create. He claims “I didn’t know itwas going to be this big,” referring to the scandal that he created by lying about EPO. Oprah is visibly shocked when he goes off script on such moments and asks him to repeat what he has said and explain why he has used such language, warning him about how viewers will respond. He often does the things he tells himself not to do. For example he says: “I’m not going to split hairs here,” but then he goes on to elaborate how one form of cheating is different from another, which is different from another.  

In the end, the interview does more harm to Lance Armstrong than good. After hearing him speak for an hour, it becomes clear to the audience that he has psychological problems, such as megalomania or sociopathy. He does not belong on a show like this making confessions to the whole world, which he will later come to regret. It sounds like he regrets getting caught more than he regrets using drugs. He is very cynical about the cycling sport and shows his hate toward the agencies that penalised him. His use of body language, fillers, diction and verb tense all show a complete lack of remorse about his active role in misleading cyclist fans around the world. He should not be allowed to ride in any bike races after this. 

Criterion A: Knowledge, understanding, interpretation and comparison – 3 out of 5

The student’s response to the Lance Armstrong interview demonstrates an understanding of it. Some of the student’s sentences, however, suggest he has not researched the wider context of the interview, such as “[Armstrong] should not be allowed to ride in any bike races after this.” (In fact, he has not been allowed to race since his confession.) The essay shows a satisfactory interpretation of the implications of the interview, focusing on how fans are rightfully critical of Mr. Armstrong’s performance. References to the text are generally relevant and mostly support the candidate’s ideas. Some claims, such as the claim that the interview was “scripted,” need to be supported with evidence from both the primary source and secondary sources. 

Criterion B: Analysis and evaluation – 3 out of 5

The response demonstrates a generally appropriate analysis of Lance Armstrong’s use of language, such as fillers and body language. Some paragraphs, particularly the one on diction and verb tenses, do not directly connect the effects of Armstrong’s speech to his words and behaviour.  There are occasional insights into how and why Armstrong was criticised after the interview, but these are not always clear and focused. The essay seems short and could have identified more textual features and their effects on the audience.

Criterion C: Coherence, balance, focus and organisation - 2 out of 5

Some organization is apparent, though there is little focus. It is not clear what the purpose is of the second paragraph, and it possibly could have been integrated into the introduction. Although the text has a very good line of inquiry and thesis statement to answer it, the essay is not always coherent. For example the paragraph on diction does not mention the word diction until the final sentence of the paragraph. The system of quoting is not clear or accurate, as the quotations should have been accompanied with the corresponding time in the interview. A bibliography with the URL of the primary source would have been appropriate. The final body paragraph ends with an illustration and not a summative point, which is not good essay-writing practice. The conclusion introduces a new idea, namely Armstrong’s disdain for the Anti-Doping Agency (ADA) – though this is not articulated clearly – and this too is poor essay-writing practice.

Criterion D: Language - 2 out of 5

The candidate’s language is sometimes clear and carefully chosen. There are words such as “totally” and “millions” which are inappropriate and inaccurate. The question “Why was this?” at the end of the second paragraph is not the appropriate register. For the most part grammar is accurate, although errors and inconsistencies are apparent. 

Last modified: Tuesday, 28 January 2020, 2:08 PM