Scroll to Page 2 for Crosscut- exclusive Art Thiel commentary.
Three stories, otherwise unrelated, this past week about public empires left me sadly amazed at the collective obliviousness to public consequences of the perpetrators' calculated indifference:
- The need for victory and glory was so important for cyclist Lance Armstrong that he chose to lie for years to millions in the world of sports and the world of health care that held him in high esteem, while intimidating teammates into keeping his secrets about using performance-enhancing drugs. To this moment, he denies the overwhelming evidence. How? Why?
- The Seattle Times chose to put its No. 1 asset, public integrity, in jeopardy with a desperate, embarrassing maneuver to fund two political campaigns "to prove the power of print advertising" without any explanation of what that meant. How? Why?
- The Mariners, who finished last in seven of the past nine seasons, including three in a row, not only raised ticket prices for 2013 at Safeco Field, they abandoned their customary practice of a courtesy explainer to season ticket holders in advance of billing, making a bad public move worse. How? Why?
The connection among these unrelated developments is that they are one-of-a-kind operations that rely on monopoly, and trade on public trust, that apparently has allowed them to be dismissive of public conscience and consequence.
Most people want these enterprises to succeed, and surrender their tolerance grudgingly for error. But these misdeeds are not mistakes. A mistake is getting five when two and two are added. These are plans that come from carefully considered policy, policy that can only be described charitably as tone deaf.
Cynics can say these sorts of thing go on all the time with the Pentagon, Google, Morgan Stanley, Microsoft, the NFL — remember the replacement refs? — and countless other other institutions and people who believe explaining the how and why is for others. To which I say:
Because it is pervasive doesn't mean it is unworthy of illumination and criticism. A shrug of the culture's shoulders does nothing for anyone.
A Sports Illustrated story in the latest print editiion examined the conclusions provided two months ago by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that prompted the stripping of his seven Tour de France titles, followed by last week's "reasoned decision" explaining the testimony and evidence that led to the action.
Armstrong in August chose not to fight the USADA claims, saying he was exhausted and "done with this nonsense." The "nonsense" was 164 pages with 850 pages of documentation, in which USADA described a case of "massive fraud more fully exposed." The evidence includes sworn testimony by 10 of his teammates that Armstrong doped, and they covered for him and doped themselves, partly out of intimidation by Armstrong.
The upshot is an epic betrayal by one of the most honored, revered athletes in modern U.S. sports history. The exposure doesn't invalidate the inspiration provided by his story as a cancer survivor, nor the deeds done by his foundation -— from which he has resigned -— but his continued silence makes his future worthless and undermines those who have supported him by word and deed. No greater indictment can be offered than when Nike, whose conscience can be discovered typically only with an electron microscope, kicked him down the stairs.
So far, his own self-aggrandizement is more valuable to him than providing the how and why of portraying himself for 15 years as virtually the only clean racer in the sport's most massively corrupt era. He is utterly untrustworthy, and every day that passes without his recognition of that makes any future good deeds more unlikely.
A bit less seriously, but more locally, The Times business officials stunned their own editorial staff, not to mention the national journalism community, by offering $75,000 worth of advertising prior to the election to gubernatorial candidate to Rob McKenna as well as an initiative advocating gay marriage. The claim was to "prove the power of print advertising."
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