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Armstrong body language 'unsettling'

Body language expert and researcher Patti Wood says she found the body language of Lance Armstrong 'unsettling' during his interview with Oprah Winfrey.

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''This is going to be a long process.

''Do I have remorse? Absolutely. Will I continue to grow up? Absolutely.

''I'm going to be apologising for this for the rest of my life.

Cheats

Lance Armstrong, centre, has joined a long list of sporting transgressors who have tried to rebuild tarnished images, among them (clockwise from top left) Matthew Johns, Marion Jones, O.J. Simpson, Ben Cousins and Tiger Woods.

''Without a doubt [I'm a better human being]. I lost my way … I can't lose my way again.''

- Lance Armstrong

 

In the world of crisis-management public relations, Lance Armstrong's mea culpa to Oprah Winfrey was standard practice.

Like many sporting transgressors before him - Tiger Woods, Marion Jones, Ben Johnson, Mike Tyson, or Australians Ben Cousins and Matthew Johns, to name a few - a public admission of guilt is the first step towards rebranding the seemingly irretrievable.

What happens next for Armstrong will also be part of a carefully constructed PR strategy with specific aims, reportedly to lessen his legal liability and have his lifetime competition ban eased.

''If I was advising him, I would tell him to firstly disappear for six months and lose his spot in the news cycle, because each time he's in public, he'll be asked about this and it won't go away,'' says the author and crisis management expert Joseph Blaney, an associate dean and professor of communication at Illinois State University.

''Then, I don't know what kind of counselling there is for pathological liars, but he should seek it out. He should then return with a humble spirit and visit every town he raced in to say sorry and call everybody whose trophies were denied because of his cheating and express sorrow to them. Say sorry to everybody he possibly can.''

Such tactics seem obvious. But they form part of a textbook approach that has evolved since political consultancy stretched into celebrity and sport. It has rapidly grown as the 24-hour news cycle has demanded ever-deeper analysis. Simply stonewalling no longer cuts it.

The instant information age means secrets are harder to keep. But it also provides new tools in the PR war. If Armstrong's team is sharp, they'll use social media as part of a strategy to promote positive messages when people use search engines.

Technology could work to Armstrong's advantage. But the foundation of any resurrection is still sincerity. Armstrong said he would spend the rest of his life apologising and trying to win back trust, almost certainly a well-rehearsed line. However, he later slipped up by saying he was only in this position because he came out of retirement.

''The community knows if an apology is bullshit,'' says communications expert Sue Cato, whose clients include former David Jones boss Mark McInnes and photographer Bill Henson. ''It might sound old-fashioned, but if you're fighting from a position of bullshit, you're going to get carved up.''

Cato demands the truth from her clients. The next step is to ''rip the Band-Aid off''.

''The best thing is to hug the truth and take the consequences,'' she says. ''Then you can say, 'I've told you everything. Judge me as you will.'''

''Most people will be sympathetic because it's human nature. With Ben Cousins, the moment he said 'I'm terribly sorry, I'm going to become better', the story disappeared. Matthew Johns, Andrew Johns, any of these guys, politicians, celebrities - when they admit they're wrong, apologise and say they'll try to turn their life around, the public generally allows them that chance.''

Celebrity agent Max Markson agrees. ''There's no gain from ducking and weaving,'' he says. ''If they've done wrong, they've got to say sorry.''

Markson highlights celebrities whose apologies have led to a relatively successful return. Tyson admitted to his failings and has made the best of it. Hugh Grant used humour as a constructive part of his confession on a talkshow and rebuilt his image.

However closely Armstrong follows the crisis-management blueprint, his situation may be beyond repair. His enduring pattern of aggressive denial places him on the precipice.

''There are some situations from which there is virtually no return,'' says David Rowe, of the University of Western Sydney's Institute for Culture and Society.

''Gary Glitter, for instance - there's no coming back from paedophilia. Another is O.J. Simpson, who never recovered publicly. Tiger Woods will never be the old Tiger again, but he had a partial rehabilitation in the public eye.

''My question is: will Lance Armstrong be an O.J. Simpson or a Tiger Woods? Because he spent years bullying and threatening people who questioned him, I think it will be extra hard for him to come back.

''I think he's more of an O.J. Simpson. After all the remonstrating, it will be nearly impossible for him to show that his apologies or admissions are anything more than trying to rescue a shredded future.''