One of the greatest American heroes in recent memory has lately fallen from grace. Lance Armstrong was considered one of the greatest sportsmen in the world and his story of coming back from cancer to win the Tour de France inspired millions. He was seen as an All American hero embodying everything Americans value: hard work, determination, charisma, and moral character. So when the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) found that he had cheated by using performance enhancing drugs, the reactions of the US public was predictable. It was predictable because we know how effectively the media works in a society with a cult-like mentality.
It is a cult of personality that made Armstrong who he is. Like all the pop images of people the media creates, it has a shelf-life longer than is warranted. His image has a momentum which leaves reality behind. People will continue to think he is a hero despite the facts. The media will continue to represent him as a hero because he is their creation and like all media darlings, he must be protected at all costs. Reports like this are common in the US media trying to cast doubt on the damning evidence against Armstrong (positive drug tests for a host of banned substances and even a blood transfusion using the most sophisticated detection methods available to science and ten eye witnesses who were his teammates and coaches). Or this NYT article which makes the outright false claim that he has never failed a drug test. The media also continues to paint him in a relatively positive light or even shamelessly demand that he be made into an exception so that he will not be punished.
More telling are the comments in these stories from posters supporting Armstrong. They display fierce, obstinate refusal to accept the facts of the matter. We live in a culture where the public is at the whims of the media. All the evidence cannot destroy a media-made image in the minds of the masses no matter how contrary to reality that image is. Once it is created it is nearly impossible to kill. But negative portrayals also have the same shelf life. The masses cannot get over demonizing or denigrating images either. They have been inculcated by the media to see someone or something in a certain way which becomes written in stone.
Contrast Armstrong’s case with the baseless character assassination carried against someone who has no history of positive drug tests or other evidence of cheating, Ye Shiwen. The media damned her before any evidence came out while Armstrong continues to receive positive support after. The negative image of Ye as a cheater or all Chinese athletes as cheaters is just as difficult to destroy as the positive image of Armstrong. Both are created independently of the facts and both will live on in the minds of Americans dupes.