The "Me, doped? Never!" article goes on to note that while Americans seems to relish public confessions of wrongdoing, Armstrong's lies may have lasted too long and gone too far to allow him back into society's good graces. As a reader, it is easy to get the impression that the journalist is rooting for just that result. But the French, like Baal, have largely moved on, and they have largely viewed the confession with a troubled fascination that they apply to the notably American ritual of televised confessions for public figures caught in wrongdoing.
People here are full of questions: Will Americans forgive their deceiver? Could Armstrong go to prison, whether for obstructing justice or lying under oath? How many millions will the fallen hero have to pay to those who he has wronged (like sponsors and those he has sued in the past)? But it is the story of human betrayal that likely fascinates people here most: Will a man who long succeeded thanks to a team of people dedicated to protecting his epic deception now turn on his own helpers?
French communications expert Olivier Cimelière offered a French perspective on the Texan's rehabilitation effort to Francetvinfo.fr: "Lance Armstrong no longer had a choice. This was his last shot, to limit the damage, by betting on redemption, which is very strong in American culture." But Cimelière believes there is hope for Armstrong. "When I worked for Nestlé Waters, we did polling before sponsoring the Tour de France," Cimelière said. "We realized that the majority of people didn't care about doping scandals. It is the show that interests them. Those people will easily forgive Armstrong."
Interestingly, that analysis may also apply to some prominent figures in France's political class. The very conservative former minister of the interior, Claude Guéant -- who was, until May, France's austere top cop -- told a journalist on the Canal Plus television channel recently that "despite the doping, I cannot keep myself from admiring him, because cycling is an extremely hard, demanding sport."
Guéant's former boss, Nicolas Sarkozy, may well feel the same way. Sarkozy, a cycling aficionado himself, repeatedly lauded Armstrong's drive and effort, and the two men also shared a personal friendship. Then-President Sarkozy even quipped during a 2009 lunch with Armstrong at the Elysée presidential palace that "even Asterix takes a magic potion" -- a kind of weirdly prescient apology for the American cycling star. (Armstrong also gave the French president a $7,000 racing bike. Sarkozy has often been filmed proudly riding alongside his bodyguards, family, and celebrity friends.)
The former head of state has not entirely escaped the Armstrong fallout. In an article published in September 2012, Le Nouvel Observateur reported that Armstrong had told Pierre Bordry, when he was the head of the French Agency for the Battle Against Doping, that he could call his "personal friend" -- then-President Sarkozy -- to get Bordry fired for harassing him. The anti-doping official sought clarification from the presidential palace and got no response. He later resigned. Armstrong's confession is likely to bring more attention to the role of many enablers, including an array of powerful friends.
In the meantime, in something of a quirk, the hashtag #jeudiconfession (Jeudi means Thursday) trended throughout France in the run up to the Oprah broadcast. Most were cute admissions that had nothing to do with the Tour de France, along the lines of "I'm in love with my phone," or "I wish today were Friday." Some were only slightly more serious: "I have a hard time projecting myself into the future, and that makes girls run away."
Armstrong hadn't yet tweeted any confessions. But here in France, a few people have begun to tweet them in his name, or about him. One, by someone using the handle "Quelqu'un," involved a plausible prediction: "Forget about it, tomorrow this hashtag is reserved for @LanceArmstrong."