However fun it might be, there’s little to be gained at this late date from kicking Lance Armstrong while he’s down, so why not turn a little attention to those amongst his enablers and apologists? The Seattle Weekly entrusts said task to former Sonics beat writer Mike Seely, who considers the case of ‘Every Second Counts’ and ‘Not About The Bike’ co-author Sally Jenkins, she of a Pulitzer nomination and years penning for The Washington Post. Seely is not totally without sympathy, noting he once witnessed Gary Payton in the late night company of Salt AND Pepa and chosen not to write about it. Still, Seely muses, “I’ve never been comfortable with the tidal wave of autobiographies penned by journalists who might have to cover the subject of their collaborations in the future.” Yeah, but enough about Joe Posnanski.
Jenkins’ books with Armstrong were published in the midst of his biggest successes and, as it turns out, near the height of his alleged illicit activities. Armstrong won two Tour de France titles after the second book was published and the clouds of rumored doping were flourishing in earnest, at least in Europe. Jenkins could have recused herself from Armstrong-related columns, but people recognized her as such an expert on the famed cyclist, many wanted her take. Jenkins provided one on Aug. 24, after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency leveled its initial doping accusations against Armstrong. She could have limited herself to commenting on the man to whom she was exposed, even mentioned his maintained innocence and her lack of knowledge about its veracity. Instead, she attacked the USADA and the system, providing a quasi-defense of her co-author. That column breached an ethical demarcation.
The rest of what the Jenkins-Armstrong partnership raises is not so clear cut. If Jenkins’ relationship with Armstrong was close enough, Armstrong hypothetically could have been comfortable enough to inject himself in her presence. If that had happened, would Jenkins, as a journalist, have been obligated to report the incident? Even if she had felt compelled to do so, I doubt she could have, by journalistic or even societal standards. Writing about an activity that one “witnesses” merely is making a claim, not providing definitive proof. Otherwise people could make claims all the time about other people they didn’t like. How nice to be able to say you saw the boss, who was about to fire you, push a stranger off a balcony. Corroborating facts or testimony by a named source are necessary to meet journalistic or criminal standards.