Buzz Bissinger has his tail between his legs.
The Newsweek and Daily Beast contributor, who wrote a cover story titled I Still Believe in Lance Armstrong, says he’s thoroughly embarrassed he gave the disgraced cyclist the benefit of the doubt, believe that the athlete didn’t win his cycling championships through doping.
“I cringe when I see that cover,” Bissinger told Hardball guest host Michael Smerconish on Friday, calling Armstrong a “clinical, classic, narcissist who really only cares about himself.”
During the first of two interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Armstrong on Thursday finally admitted he took a “cocktail” of banned performance drugs in all seven of his Tour de France wins. He used the excuse that everyone was cheating at the time, arguing “I didn’t invent the culture, and I didn’t try to stop the culture.”
In his August cover story, Bissinger—the author of Friday Night Lights—argued that Armstrong “is a hero, one of the few we have left in a country virtually bereft of them. And he needs to remain one.”
The sports journalist told Smerconish that he believed Armstrong at the time because he was so strong in his convictions. “I think he was able to roll me because I did not do my due diligence…He said he was giving up the fight against [the United States Anti-Doping Agency], but he still seemed defiant. He said ‘the odds were stacked up against me, these guys are out to screw me, I was denied due process.’ There was never a hint even, you know, a subtle, off the record hint that something was amiss,” said Bissinger.
The writer said the Newsweek story “really shot my credibility” by “2%, 3%, [or] 5%,” but he said he did not fault Armstrong. “At the end of the day, I’m not going to blame him. I’m going to blame myself,” said Bissinger. “…I bought it and I’m embarrassed.”
Did Armstrong buy himself any public sympathy with his Oprah interview? Absolutely not, argued The Edge of Sports’ Dave Zirin,
“I felt like I was watching the Titanic hit an iceberg. I felt like Oprah kept trying to help him…try to make yourself look more sympathetic, please. And all he could do was stare back with this reptilian look on his face and really have no sense of regard for anybody but himself,” said Zirin. “The only thing [that came across in the interview ] was ‘I’m really, really sorry I got caught.’”