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Lance Armstrong: building deception upon lies

How you feel about the collapse of cyclist Lance Armstrong's credibility depends on how you feel about lying and cheating to conquer cancer. If you believe extremism in the defence of cancer research is a virtue, then Armstrong's drug nolo contendere does little to sway your admiration for the U.S. cyclist. William Shatner summed up the sympathy squad, tweeting, "I am so sorry this is happening to you."

If you don't believe Armstrong's continued prevarication and obfuscation in the face of overwhelming anecdotal evidence, then he's a man who deceived his fans, cheated his sport and lost the right to be a hero. A "clean" Armstrong supposedly defeated seven rivals – all drug cheats themselves – by record amounts? Sometimes you don't need the smoking weapon to convict.

What is clear is that Armstrong's now-defunct credibility campaign has brought out the rooting instincts in the fourth estate. If the reaction of the past week is any indication, even a dirty Armstrong will be given a pass by the press. "First of all, Lance Armstrong is a good man," writes Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post. "There's nothing that I can learn about him short of murder that would alter my opinion on that."

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"Was I inclined to believe the passionate denials that he made for the nth time when I asked him about the swirl of allegations that have surrounded him for years?" asked Alastair Campbell, who wrote on Armstrong in the Times of London. "Yes, I was. Was that possibly because a part of me wanted the denials to be true; because I wanted to believe the legend of a man who could come back from cancer to become the seven-times winner of the toughest sporting event in the calendar? I am sure that it was."

Cancer survivor Arash Markazi of ESPN: "I know that's supposed to make me feel differently about Armstrong. It's supposed to make me feel somehow cheated or betrayed by him, but it doesn't."

Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes: "He did all of that. That is why Lance Armstrong still matters."

Then there was TSN Radio's Gareth Wheeler, battling cancer himself, who tweeted "@WheelerTSN Lance Armstrong is my hero. Period. Survived cancer. Now this. Love you, Lance."

You can understand the testimony of cancer victims. But others?

Their published sentiments fit perfectly in an age of personal empowerment and self realization. "Don't kill my buzz with facts, man." Paraphrasing Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal about Barack Obama, Armstrong's greatest talent "has been his knack for granting his admirers permission to think highly of themselves for thinking highly of him."

Apparently that sentiment has overtaken many in the media, too. But that's what happens when we get too close to our subjects. Bernie Madoff was once hailed for directing hundreds of millions toward charities. In creating such heroes, we in the media build deception upon lies. Sometimes the people whose lies we bury turn out to be creeps like Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds, easy to cast aside. But then along comes Lance Armstrong, and we're caught in crosshairs of our own construction.

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Sale of The Score

How anticipated was the sale this past week of The Score to Rogers? The price of The Score's stock had soared almost 47 per cent on Friday before trading was halted. When the sale was confirmed, it ended one of the longest guessing games in Canadian broadcast history. From the time it morphed away from a conventional sports results/highlights format to the ungodly stew it became, the network was supposedly being pursued by CBC, Rogers, Bell and other communications firms.

"Everything has a price," Score Media chairman John Levy told Usual Suspects with a sly grin in 2009 when asked about the minnow being swallowed by the whales of Canadian business. Rumour was Levy wanted $200-million. Eventually the price was $138-million plus a $12-million investment in The Score's digital technology.

For that, Rogers gets The Score's 6.6-million subscribers, generating approximately $45-million of annual subscription and advertising revenues. Plus, The Score's digital media know-how (though not its app) and its King Street offices. Because The Score has carriage agreements with all the Canadian cable/ satellite carriers, Rogers won't have a nasty placement fight as it did with launching Sportsnet ONE.

Now what? Levy meets with his employees today to discuss their futures. The Score brand will continue with its app and digital content, but otherwise will disappear.

Sources say that with the acquisition of MLSE now out of Rogers' way, it is just starting to assess the options. Sportsnet is unlikely to continue with much of its current TV content of hoops, horses and beet-faced talking heads bragging on their pari-mutuel strategies. Possibilities include a return to The Score's earlier highlights wheel, a stand-alone hockey channel or perhaps a channel dedicated to Rogers' radio content.

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Rogers has no firm plans yet. One thing is certain: Those concerned about media concentration in the sports marketplace are not greeting this news with any enthusiasm.

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