If you read or heard media accounts of the investigation in 2010 and 2011, the case against Armstrong sounded almost airtight.
“Federal prosecutors are seeking an indictment by January,” the New York Times reported in September 2010, citing “those close to the investigation.”
A few months later, ESPN.com reported: “The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles could seek an indictment on fraud and conspiracy charges, possibly within the next few months, sources have said.”
Even as recently as last month, some were predicting the end was near. Sportswriter Selena Roberts, the author of an accusatory Sports Illustrated cover story on the Armstrong case last year, suggested the indictment could come “before or maybe right after the Super Bowl.”
Well, no, as it turned out.
The fact that journalists got it wrong was cold comfort to Armstrong’s camp, which complained for many months about what it saw as one-sided treatment by the news media.
“I think what one sees over and over again is the phenomenon of the story that is too good not to be true,” said Robert Luskin, one of Armstrong’s attorneys. “The [accusations] are so juicy that reporters become unwilling to exercise independent judgment. They become seduced by their sources and take too much at face value. No one stops and says, ‘That doesn’t sound right to me.’ ”
While that is plainly a partisan view, the Armstrong case does seem to share some elements with other recent stories in which reporters relied on leaked information from one side and flawed accusers to construct an unflattering or accusatory narrative.
The drip of damning evidence against Armstrong looks like a slow-moving version of the sexual assault allegations last year against international banker Dominique Strauss-Kahn or the rape accusations in 2006 against members of the Duke lacrosse team. In both of those cases, prosecutors withdrew their charges, concluding that the widely reported accusations were untrue or wouldn’t stand up in court. (In the Duke case, the prosecutor was disbarred for his misconduct.)
Although cycling has been tainted by drug scandals for years, Armstrong vehemently denied taking performance-enhancing drugs during his long career, a statement noted in most media accounts. He cited more than 500 “clean” drug tests stretching back nearly 15 years, making him perhaps the world’s most drug-tested athlete.