The outrageous thing about Buzz Bissinger's Newsweek cover story isn't that he's defending Lance Armstrong against the doping allegations against him, but that, in his defense of Armstrong, he's not necessarily even arguing for the athlete's innocence. Rather, Bissinger is arguing that Armstrong's still a "hero," whether he doped or not. That's the kind of thing that makes people ask (in the wake of Niall Ferguson's notoriously inaccurate "Hit the Road, Barack" article) whether editor Tina Brown is still even taking Newsweek seriously. When your cover story includes an "everybody's doing it" defense to taking performance enhancing drugs, in general, in a sport plagued by the problem, it looks pretty clearly like trolling.
As Bissinger writes:
Did he use enhancers? Maybe I am the one who is blind, but I take him at his word and don’t believe it; he still passed hundreds of drug tests, many of them given randomly. But even if he did take enhancers, so what?
Professional cycling is a rotten sport like all professional sports are rotten (anybody who believes otherwise is a Pollyanna fool). It’s “not about the bike,” as the title of Armstrong’s bestselling biography states. It’s about winning by any means possible and then hoping to figure out a medical way of covering it up. Doping has been a rite of passage in the Tour de France. According to The New York Times, at least a third of the top 10 finishers (Armstrong included) have either officially admitted to using performance enhancers or been officially suspected of doping.
As to how Armstrong could have passed drug tests, Wired's Brian Alexander explained last week that minor chemical changes to drugs, and naturally occurring proteins that obscure results make testing notoriously unreliable. "Some estimate that for every EPO user discovered, 10 others get away." But that argues for better testing, not a general acceptance of doping, unless we want professional sports to become chemical competitions of bio-enhanced frankenhumans.
Bissinger touches on a lot of things that are legitimately disturbing about the doping case against Armstrong, which includes no positive drug test results: Armstrong said the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which brought the case, wouldn't let him see the evidence against him. And "two former teammates likely to testify were found to have lied about their own use of performance enhancers during a federal investigation of Armstrong that, following much hoopla and predictions of indictment by The New York Times,was quietly closed." But to defend doping as a practice because everybody's doing it is to set up an unethical case, for clicks' sake, also known as trolling.