Why Lance Armstrong’s loss has been Oprah’s gain

Opinion

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(MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

(MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

All of which suggests that in some ways, Ms. Winfrey and Mr. Armstrong have forged a marriage of convenience. The former seven Tour de France winner is a thoroughly diminished figure, ignominiously stripped of his titles amid a performance-enhancing drug scandal he denied repeatedly.

His fall from grace — along with a blinding narcissism — is stunning, even in even in an age where the public is inured to accusations of steroid use by sports figures. It’s doubtful there’s anything the cancer survivor will be able to do at this point to repair his reputation.

As the media frenzy confirms, Lance Armstrong could have taken his story to any major network of his choosing. Yet he chose a news magazine on a little-watched network. Why? Most likely because the station in question belongs to Oprah, who despite her fading star still has the requisite cachet to grill Armstrong in a fair way.

That’s right ladies and gentlemen: it may have been a rocky last few years for the heroine in our tale since she wrapped up The Oprah Winfrey Show, but she’s still got it.

All of which explains why Lance Armstrong must have been an irresistible target for Oprah herself. By answering his call, the media mogul has managed to reaffirm her own cultural relevance, oddly enough by aligning herself with a tarnished icon who may very well have to stand trial for his transgressions. It could even be argued that Armstrong and Winfrey are kindred spirits. Both have spent the last few years in the jungle after strategic career miscalculations.

To be sure, doping and potential perjury are a far cry indeed from trying to right a floundering cable channel. However, their circumstances are similar: two global superstars parachuted into unfamiliar and hostile territory. As any survivalist or soldier can attest, the wilderness be unforgiving and brutal.

The last few years have been a tough exercise in humility for Ms. Winfrey. The experience with OWN must have taught her success in one area doesn’t translate into currency for another. Hence, the Armstrong interview is the very definition of high stakes for the multimedia queen. For her, being the person who sautées Lance Armstrong on live television could be the equivalent of Katie Couric’s fateful interview with Sarah Palin in 2008 (which, incidentally, rescued her own flagging ratings at CBS).

It may become the shot in the arm a failing television station — and the damage that would result from her having to pull the plug on it — that Oprah needs.