The downfall of a hero being an excruciating thing for a Boy’s Own type of mind, I am appalled by the lack of empathy for Alastair Campbell as he struggles to compute Lance Armstrong’s final disgrace. Ali famously worshipped the cyclist, whom he twice interviewed, and as recently as August clung to the hope that he was only abandoning the doping denial through fatigue
Even then, although acknowledging the possibility of wishful thinking, Ali preferred to see the accusations as media persecution and more evidence of the crazed nationalistic arrogance and anti-Americanism that kept France out of Iraq. “To some,” he wrote then, “many of them French, who would rather one of their own had dominated the Tour de France, he is a cheat...” He adored the Texan who taunted his Sunday Times nemesis David Walsh about the death of a 12-year-old son, even adopting Armstrong’s elegant quote that “losing is dying” as a mantra.
It would be a tragedy if he were now to equate Armstrong’s fall with a psychological petite mort that shook his self-confidence as a gifted judge of character. If he believed Armstrong’s denials, as he believed in Saddam’s capacity to attack British interests in 45 minutes and shared Tony Blair’s belief in the bona fides of Gaddafi and al-Assad, is a truly romantic nature a crime? The crucial thing is that he retains his self-belief, and continues to share his opinions with the rigid self-certainty that has made him a national treasure for so long.
Mensch: sharp as a squashed tack
Also contemplating Armstrong is a new star columnist. “Tough, outspoken and sharp,” as a Sun on Sunday strapline needlessly informs, it’s only Louise Mensch! Now who’d have guessed that Louise’s doughty championing of the Family Murdoch during its travails, when Tom Watson accused her of tabling amendments to the media select committee report designed to exonerate James, would earn her such a lucrative reward? Writing from New York, whither she repaired after tiring of Westminster life within 27.31 seconds of being ignored in the reshuffle, she posits that “Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah Winfrey left a lot to be desired.” If finding the words for thoughts the rest of us have but cannot articulate is the tabloid columnist’s greatest gift, the future looks bounteous indeed.
If you can’t trust Rupert...
Next Sunday, perhaps Louise will focus her sharpness on News International’s renegade independent directors. Led by Rupert Pennant-Rea, former deputy governor of the Bank of England, these rascals have the nerve to defy Rupert Murdoch’s will to instal John Witherow and Martin Ivens as editors of The Times and Sunday Times respectively, hence their appointments as “acting editors”. Wilfully misconstruing the meaning in this context of “independent” (which the Murdoch: English dictionary translates as “rubber stamp”), they appear to doubt the old sweetheart’s assurances to honour his old pledge never to merge the titles. This is hard to take. If Rupert’s word is no longer regarded as his bond, you begin to fear the death of chivalry in this industry.