An Open Letter to Lance Armstrong's Lawyers

They're demanding an on-air apology from 60 Minutes for the segment on the cyclist's alleged doping. Do they think we're stupid?


Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Re: June 1 demand for public apology from CBS News

Dear shameless, high-priced flacks esteemed legal representatives of Lance Armstrong,

On behalf of the segment of the population that is currently awake, paying attention, and not in a medically comatose and/or trauma-induced vegetative state, I ask that you explain to the general public that your demand that 60 Minutes apologize on air to Lance Armstrong was a cynical, empty public relations gesture that even an unusually perceptive chimpanzee could see right through.

Moreover, I demand that you issue a written apology to the American public for holding its collective intelligence in such obvious and searing contempt, as well as mistakenly assuming that your law degrees confer not only legal knowledge and a peerless ability to obfuscate, but also Jedi mind trick powers.

They do not. No matter how high your hourly rate is.

Your aggrieved letter to CBS News centers around a single allegation made during the May 22 broadcast of 60 Minutes: that Armstrong tested positive for the banned performance-enhancing blood-booster EPO during the 2001 Tour of Switzerland and possibly had the result covered up. You state that this allegation is reckless. You call it demonstrably false. You repeatedly throw out the word "defamatory." You dub correspondent Scott Pelley's words "untethered to reality." You spend four droning, repetitive pages - seriously, your whole argument could have been squeezed into three paragraphs - complaining about the unjust, inexcusable, shoddy, and vicious failed drug test allegation, as if every other damning allegation made during the program never existed.

Talk about untethered to reality.

In your letter, you claim that the drug test allegation was both a "centerpiece" and "the heart" of the 60 Minutes report. This is demonstrably false. The heart of the broadcast was former Armstrong teammate Tyler Hamilton claiming in an on-camera interview that he: (a) saw Armstrong take performance-enhancing drugs including EPO and testosterone; (b) saw Armstrong receive a banned blood transfusion; (c) had knowledge of Armstrong encouraging and promoting doping by the U.S Postal team; (d) had knowledge of banned Italian trainer Michele Ferrari giving Armstrong a doping schedule; (e) gave testimony regarding the preceding to a federal grand jury investigating Armstrong.

The heart of the broadcast also was a report from unidentified sources that another former Armstrong teammate, George Hincapie, told the same grand jury that he and Armstrong supplied each other with EPO and discussed using testosterone to prepare for races.

Curiously, your letter ignores these wide-ranging allegations, which are potentially far more damaging to Armstrong's reputation than a single alleged decade-old failed doping test. So why would you fixate on said test? Perhaps because you're employing a classic public relations/political campaign trick that also serves as a time-honored junior high debate team strategy: When you're stuck with a losing argument, change the terms of the debate. Control the frame. Make a mountain out of a molehill and hope the public loses sight of the active volcano next door. Wave a hand, then tell Darth Vader's landspeeder Keystone traffic cops that these are not, in fact, the droids they are looking for.

In short: you seem to believe the rest of us are really, really stupid.

It should be noted some of your letter's assertions regarding the alleged failed test already have been called into question. For one, the same director of the Swiss anti-doping lab you say vindicates Armstrong reportedly informed federal authorities that Armstrong's test results from the 2001 Tour of Switzerland were "suspicious" and "consistent with EPO use." Second, your claim that a record of all positive tests taken during the race shows that Armstrong did not test positive could be seen as disingenuous in light of a report that Armstrong's results from the same 2001 race are missing from the records you cite.

That said, the alleged failed test is not the primary issue, despite your efforts to make it so. The main issue is the avalanche of other allegations against Armstrong, and your letter's transparent attempt to sidestep them. Indeed, it's likely that the mere act of writing a strident, righteous, vaguely-threatening letter to CBS News in the first place was a dodge from Crisis Management 101, a way to attack the messenger. Is Armstrong's beef really with Pelley and his news team? Shouldn't it be with Hamilton? Or with Hincapie? Or with Floyd Landis, who previously accused Armstrong of doping? Or with the French cycling press? Again: the public is not as dumb as you apparently assume.

Your letter is full of tough, forceful talk. You don't ask for an apology. You demand one. On air, no less. You call the 60 Minutes broadcast "an outrage," "a hatchet job," a "hit-and-run job" and an icing-coated "defamatory cake." I kind of like the last image. But still. Macho words and strong verbs are what I use in a fight. Because I'm a writer. You, on the other hand, are lawyers. You fight in court, racking up billable hours and winning even when your client loses. If you're confident enough to puff out your chest, put down your foot and insist on an apology, then why not file an actual lawsuit?

So: your entire letter to CBS News smacks of a hollow, for-show ploy intended to confuse - and possibly bore—a public that might otherwise be considering all of the other doping allegations levied against your client. In the cold light of morning—again, your hackneyed imagery! - you seem to think the rest of us are either morons or too busy hacking Rep. Anthony Weiner's Twitter account to notice. In either case, a categorical apology is required.

Very truly yours,

Patrick Hruby