Why we should be suspicious of any contrition Lance Armstrong shows to Oprah

I’ll admit: I love Oprah Winfrey. She’s a hugely fascinating media figure with a great American story.

But she’s not exactly known for her penetrating interview style. It remains to be seen if she had the skills to get real truth out of a skilled liar like Lance Armstrong.

There’s much to admire about Armstrong. Even taking the doping into account, his is a story of incredible fortitude — the classic man vs. himself myth.

If only Armstrong had not — repeatedly — turned that story into one of himself vs. others — friends, colleagues, teammates, even his masseuse, all of whom apparently were willing to tell the truth sooner than he was.

So I hope those quick to forgive Armstrong take the time to get at least a little information on the many efforts he made to lie, sue, and intimidate people who were apparently telling the truth. It wasn’t as if he simply denied the rumors and accusations and went on with his charitable work. Again and again, he launched attacks of various sorts on those who sought to expose him.

From the New York Daily News’ Victims of Lance Armstrong’s strong-arm tactics feel relief and vindication in the wake of U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report with the account of the experience of masseuse Emma O’Reilly:

Dismayed by the doping culture in the sport, O’Reilly resigned from her U.S. Postal job in 2000. It wasn’t until 2003, when she was paid to help with the book, “L.A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong,” written by Walsh and Pierre Ballester and published in 2004, that she began to experience the wrath of Armstrong. He sued O’Reilly for libel in the wake of the book’s publication and attacked her credibility.

“Once my involvement in the (book) project became known, Lance wasted no time attacking me and my reputation,” O’Reilly said in her affidavit. “Lance also tried to discredit me by publicly referring to me as a prostitute and an alcoholic. The lawsuits against me were dropped or settled in 2006, but the damage Lance caused to my reputation still remains.”

And this about some others whom Armstrong encouraged not to testify:

[George] Hincapie told of two incidents when Armstrong provided him with EPO; Filippo Simeoni, told by Armstrong at the Tour de France in 2004, “You made a mistake when you testified about (Armstrong’s former doctor Michele) Ferrari. . I can destroy you.” Armstrong then made a “zip the lips” sign caught on video; Jonathan Vaughters, whose text messages to Frankie Andreu about doping on the U.S. Postal team became an exhibit in the SCA case, and whose career was threatened; Floyd Landis, accused of being a liar and unstable once he testified about Armstrong’s doping; Tyler Hamilton, whose book “The Secret Race” detailing the hidden world of doping was released this summer, and who was physically accosted in 2011 by Armstrong in an Aspen restaurant after he began cooperating with law enforcement.

According to Hamilton’s testimony, Armstrong told him, “When you’re on the witness stand, we are going to f—— tear you apart. You are going to look like a f—— idiot. I’m going to make your life a living . . . f—— hell.”

There’s a whole lot more in the piece. England’s Sunday Times is even considering a lawsuit against Armstrong to recover legal fees spent fighting a libel suit brought by Armstrong to deny things that he actually did.

An extreme cynic would say that Armstrong could be manipulating Oprah to appear as sympathetic as possible as the legal threats and possible financial penalties loom larger and larger in the face of incontrovertible evidence.

I hope Oprah and her team were just that cynical when they planned and conducted the interview.