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Thursday, January 17, 2013
Lance Armstrong joins fraternity of liars

By Melissa Isaacson

Lance Armstrong picked the wrong time in history to join America's fraternity of famous liars.

Armstrong confessed to doping in an interview with Oprah Winfrey taped Monday that aired Thursday with the second half to air Friday.

In 1940, Pinocchio made lying entertaining, and Disney picked up two Oscars in popularizing the puppet-turned-boy who experienced public ridicule by growing a branch-like nose, donkey ears and a tail before seeing the error of his ways.

Saying he is sorry won't save cyclist Lance Armstrong from being labeled a liar.

In the 1960s, Frank Abagnale was jailed for passing millions of dollars in fraudulent checks all over the world while posing as everything from a doctor to an airline pilot. But, like Pinocchio, Abagnale apologized, and eventually a movie was made about his deception; Leonardo DiCaprio portrayed him in "Catch Me If You Can."

It hasn't been quite so easy to be forgiven in recent years. While Bill Clinton has largely overcome his lie regarding Monica Lewinsky by eventually coming clean and, in part, by presiding over the highest level of economic prosperity in this country in the two previous decades, others in the pantheon of liars have not been quite so fortunate.

For a long time, we as Americans prided ourselves on our forgiving nature, loving nothing better, actually, than to see a once-mighty public figure slammed down to earth only to be lifted back up by our merciful kindness.

When Michael Vick had a fabulous 2010 season after spending 21 months in prison for his involvement in an illegal dogfighting ring, many people praised the Eagles quarterback and soon-to-be Comeback Player of the Year for turning his life and career around. Not so much after his 2012 season went down the tubes.

Maybe we have simply become jaded by the vast magnitude of celebrity liars. The list, over the last decade or so alone, is numbing, with headliners such as Bernie Madoff, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Edwards, Jayson Blair, James Frey; and in athletics, where lying has been elevated to its own sport, with Pete Rose, Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Floyd Landis and Rafael Palmeiro.

And that's not including those who never admitted to their lies (see: Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens ); the seemingly harmless but annoying lies, like Nick Saban insisting he wasn't going to Alabama and Brett Favre insisting he was really retiring; and the amateur but very ambitious fib of Kevin Hart, the Nevada high school kid who went so far as to stage a college selection ceremony -- caps and all -- to accept a football scholarship offer to Cal that never existed; and the completely bizarre and still-evolving case of Manti Te'o and the reported "girlfriend hoax."

So sophisticated are we, the American public, at processing famous people's lies that with Armstrong, many of us are able to compartmentalize whatever good he has done for cancer patients and research, and still have the wherewithal to condemn him for being a reprehensible human being.

Jon Stewart feigned outrage on his show the other night, railing, "I believed in you, Lance Armstrong. I shelled out a dollar for a rubber bracelet that I have somewhere in my house. For you." But he got to the real heart of it when he said that "any idiot with half a brain should have been able to see Armstrong was lying."

We may be callous at times and are often apathetic, but generally speaking we don't love being made to feel like half-brained idiots.

And it's not enough to beg for our forgiveness or even cry. We were burned out on that long before Roy Firestone interviewed Rod Tidwell.

That's not to say it won't benefit Armstrong to say he's sorry, and more than once. But it's not to say we won't be significantly moved, either. It's just that we'll expect it, demand it and maybe even look forward to hearing how many different ways he can do it.

But the truly annoying part is that with every new elite-caliber liar that takes his or her place among the rarefied few, it makes us even more cynical. Suddenly we listen a little closer to every allegation regarding Livestrong's fundraising.

And the next time someone else denies a serious charge, any charge, we will be that much more skeptical.

When you've been duped as many times as we've been duped, even Pinocchio ceases to be cute anymore.