January 19, 2013

The lies we tell

Experts say Lance Armstrong may not be as different from the rest of us as we'd like to believe.

By HELEN O'NEILL The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Lance Armstrong
click image to enlarge

A video screen at a hotel restaurant in Grapevine, Texas, on Friday shows a replay telecast of a segment of Lance Armstrong being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey.

The Associated Press

ARMSTRONG STILL 'DIDN'T NAME NAMES'

For anti-doping officials, Lance Armstrong's admission of cheating was only a start. Now they want him to give details.

Armstrong's much-awaited confession to Oprah Winfrey made for riveting television, but if the disgraced cyclist wants to take things further, it will involve several long days in meetings with anti-doping officials who have specific questions: Who ran the doping programs, how were they run and who looked the other way.

"He didn't name names," World Anti-Doping Agency President John Fahey said in Australia. "He didn't say who supplied him, what officials were involved."

In the 90-minute interview Thursday night with Winfrey -- the first of two parts broadcast on her OWN network -- Armstrong said he started doping in the mid-1990s, using the blood booster EPO, testosterone, cortisone and human growth hormone, as well as engaging in outlawed blood doping and transfusions. The doping regimen, he said, helped him in all seven of his Tour de France wins.

His openness about his own transgressions, however, did not extend to allegations about other people. "I don't want to accuse anybody," he said.

But he might have to name names if he wants to gain anything from his confession, at least from anti-doping authorities.

Armstrong has been stripped of all his Tour de France titles and banned for life. A reduction of the ban, perhaps to eight years, could allow him to compete in triathlons in 2020, when he's 49.

Almost to a person, those in cycling and anti-doping circles believe it will take nothing short of Armstrong turning over everything he knows to stand any chance of cutting a deal to reduce his ban.

In Armstrong's case, Ariely says, the fact that he had survived cancer and won the Tour de France multiple times and become an international role model gave him a huge incentive to justify his cheating and perhaps even believe that it actually helped him in his good works.

Most people start off lying or cheating in a small way, Ariely says, and feel nervous about their deception at first, a feeling that dissipates the more they continue.

"Ordinary people can become extraordinary liars," says Bella DePaulo, visiting professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara, who studies deception.

In the 1990s, DePaulo and her colleagues monitored more than 100 people between the ages of 18 and 71 who kept a diary of all the lies they told over the course of a week. Most people, she found, lie once or twice a day, "everything from the little compliment to spare another person's feelings to a self-serving statement that exaggerates their own importance, to trying to get a raise or a better deal on a car."

But serious and long-term deception, DePaulo says, requires more planning -- and help. She cites the case of journalist Stephen Glass, who fabricated articles for The New Republic in the 1990s, making up characters and quotes and even events. Like other great liars who managed to continue their deception for years, DePaulo says, Glass had enablers -- people who wanted to believe he was as talented as he pretended to be.

Liars can only sustain those kinds of deceptions, DePaulo says, if they get others to invest in their lie.

"Your lies are going to have longer legs when people invest in you and look up to you and don't want to hear that you may have been a lying, cheating, scum all along."

Armstrong, she says, had something else -- the power to make life miserable for those who threatened to reveal him.

Although Armstrong's ruthlessness makes his cheating seem more extreme, he can't simply be dismissed as one bad apple, Ariely says. And whether the cyclist will eventually find some kind of redemption is irrelevant.

Ariely believes the only good that can come out of the case is if society uses it to examine standards in everything from sports to business, to create new systems where cheating becomes completely unacceptable and a mea culpa to Oprah is not considered the road to forgiveness.

But he doesn't hold out much hope. "Look at the bankers," he says. "They all said sorry and nothing changed."

 

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