I’d say it’s safe to assume that Glenn Kessler is a little miffed at Lance Armstrong today. After Armstrong finally got around to admitting that he lied throughout his entire career, the Washington Post fact-checker assigned him the top-of-the-scale four Pinocchios — for each of his seven Tour de France victories:
Armstrong, unlike some other sports heroes, has not been charged or convicted of criminal perjury. But his lies are monumental, endured for years and were aimed at creating an image that made him famous, wealthy and an inspiration for people with cancer. He was the ringleader of lying on his team — and he kept lying even after many of his co-conspirators and teammates had abandoned him.
It is a record of shame that he has only begun to confront reluctantly and under pressure — after almost his entire professional career has been wiped from the pages of history. Armstrong earns Four Pinocchios — for each Tour de France race in which he claimed he won first place without doping.
Well, OK, I get that explanation. But … why does this matter more than politicians who lie, who apparently can only get four at a time? Kessler explains:
In fact, the undisputed, major instances of lying involving politicians often have to do with sex — President Bill Clinton’s denial of “sexual relations” with Monica Lewinsky, Sen. John Edwards’s denial that he had an affair and fathered a child as his wife was dying of cancer, and Rep. Anthony Weiner’s denials that he sent sexually suggestive photographs of himself to women via Twitter.
But, unlike in Armstrong’s case, these lies were not part of their central image. Indeed, the lies were intended to protect their political image, not enhance it.
Well, I’d argue that their lies were intended to retain their grip on power — and thus matter a hell of a lot more than anything Lance Armstrong did. Lance Armstrong didn’t pick my pocket with higher taxes. Lance Armstrong didn’t try to encroach on my liberty with his lies. Lance Armstrong wasn’t attempting to seize more power over the lives of millions of voters, or maintain his ability to do so, with his lies.
And this points out the real problem with the outrage over Armstrong, and Manti Te’o, and all of the sports heroes that turn out to have feet of clay, and I say this as a sports fan. Armstrong deserves all the scorn he’s receiving, but let’s keep this in perspective. When we’re seven times more enraged by a sports figure who lied about doping than we are when public figures lie to us about policy (as Kessler routinely and mostly fairly points out), then we need to reassess our priorities faster than the final sprint of the Tour de France, doped up or not.