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Ride the Puddles

Cycling Journalism: Paul Kimmage

Posted by bikezilla on April 12, 2011


— One thing that I admire about Paul Kimmage is the amount of time that he spends on his interviews.

He spent 9 hours with Floyd Landis, 9 hours (I think) with Greg LeMond, 6 hours with Jonathan Vaughters, 5 hours with Mark Cavendish.

How does he discover such a depth and breadth of material that it takes him a full working day just to have a sit-down with a subject?

How does he organize and manage the flow of a probing discussion of that length?

I can’t even imagine the amount of research and preparation that must be involved. Weeks? Months?

To be honest, I’d love to be able to follow Kimmage from start to finish for one of those big interviews.

I guess it’s kind of an interview of the interviewer, about interviewing. Except that I can’t even fathom what questions to ask, because I can’t comprehend the vastness and detail of the undertaking.

— This is a link to a great, insightful interview of Paul Kimmage by Andy Shen at, Velocity Nation, which covers revelations from the Kimmage radio interview (more on that in a bit). In it, Kimmage cops out on his own doping. He admits it, but minimizes it’s importance.

On one hand Kimmage says that he no longer believes that riders are merely victims of the system, on the other he says that he was betrayed, hence a victim.

For all of his honor and integrity, I think he hasn’t fully reconciled himself with his own history.

It makes me wonder at his zealotry as an anti-doping crusader. But maybe it’s like they say about smokers, those who’ve quit are often the ones most strongly against it.

— I often whine about the lack of quality, ethics and professionalism in cycling journalism. For instance, how they don’t follow up and don’t ask difficult questions?

From that linked interview:

AS:
“. . . in terms of the media, are they complicit? I listened to the first hour or so of that press conference at the Tour of California before I had to get off the phone, and it was the most horribly useless press conference ever. And when you spoke up, there was no follow up from the room. Why do you think the media is so useless?”

PK:

“I’ve got to be honest here, I think they’re a complete…I think cycling has got the journalists it deserves. Not all of them, there are some people I really respect, I wouldn’t tar everybody with that brush. The Tour of California was a complete joke.”

Kimmage himself goes the other way. He’ll ask the difficult, unwanted question, then if he gets an answer that isn’t what he wants, he harasses and badgers his subject, pounding on the same question, hoping that if he asks enough times or enough ways, or if he sternly expresses his firm intention to have his answer (not the answer, his), that he’ll eventually get what he wants.

Or in the case of his Mark Cavendish interview, where the subject isn’t on top of the interview game, he manipulates his way to an answer.

He’s alternately a badger and a weasel, but always a zealot. And I mean that in a bad way.

But is that what we need right now? Someone, or a bunch of someones, who are utterly relentless and hyper-focused?

Someone like Kimmage with no fear of his subject stomping off in a fit of indignation or anger? Someone willing to risk retaliation in the form of denied access, someone who’s already proven his willingness to endure being shunned by his peers and even the public, a guy who won’t shirk away from doing the distasteful part of the job?

Many of you will recall that after Kimmage’s autobiography, Rough Ride, came out in 1990, that Kimmage was savaged publicly for implicating Irish cycling legends Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche.

Here’s another quote from that interview:

AS:

Did Roche and Kelly ever reconcile with you?

PK:

No. I get along ok with Sean, but I don’t have a very good relationship with Stephen. Not at all.

AS:

That’s terrible.

PK:

It is sad, but that’s life, isn’t’ it? We make choices, and we live by those choices. I made a choice, Stephen’s made a choice, and he’s got to live with the consequences of his choice and I have to live with the consequences of mine. I’m comfortable with what I did, and I’m sure he’s comfortable with what he did. But unfortunately that doesn’t mean we’re going to speak to each other again.

AS:

There was not one unkind word about him in your book.

PK:

Well, I did try to explain that to his father at the time, but unfortunately it didn’t register. Again, when I hear him on TV now talking about doping in cycling, how it’s a new phenomenon, something that just came around in the 90’s when he was retired, I think it’s a little disingenuous of him. Yeah, we’re not going to be friends again, that’s for sure.

AS:

It really brings home the idea of ‘spitting in the soup’. You can say nothing but nice things about someone, but if you do that one thing (speak about doping), then it’s over.

PK:

Yeah, that’s it. And obviously I was very aware that when Rough Ride was published it would make life difficult for both of them, because of the implications of what I was saying. But I couldn’t allow myself to not do it for that reason. I had to accept my responsibilities to the sport, and they have to accept theirs. That was the bottom line. If our friendships were going to fall on that, as it did, then that was too bad. That was too bad.

The reason I’ve got a good relationship with Sean is that, the only thing I expected from Sean after Rough Ride was published was ironically enough, silence. That was the best I expected from him. And he gave me that. He wasn’t critical of me in any way in the media. At a time when he could’ve made life very difficult for me, he didn’t. His response was the exact opposite of Stephen’s, he made life extremelly difficult for me. That was the difference in our relationships.

You can see how Lance isn’t the first doper to protect himself through malice and manipulation, as Stephen Roche demonstrated well ahead of Lance’s arrival on the scene. You can also see that Kimmage has repeatedly put himself “in harms way” on behalf of truth and journalistic integrity.

Kimmage isn’t afraid of what Lance Armstrong might do against him. He’s weathered Lance’s prepared tantrums and come away no worse for the wear, even with the media and Lance fanboys mocking and taunting him for his efforts.

Would Phil Leggit and Paul Sherwin do that?

Here’s another quoted section:

AS:

You’ve said you don’t have any respect for Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, right?

PK:

I find it difficult to respect them, because for sure, it’s a different job than the one I do, but I think you’ve got a duty to the truth, a duty to recognize the problem for what it was. And for many many years the d word, the doping word was never mentioned. Even at the height of the Festina scandal, unless they absolutely had to talk about it they didn’t. It’s hard for me to respect that. Sherwen was a professional, Liggett organized the Tour of Britain that I almost won in 1983.

AS:

It doesn’t help that one of them turns around and sells videos after the fact. Not gonna sell a lot of videos of a doped up race.

PK:

No, that’s right. We talk about journalists being complicit, well, they’re two great examples. Two great examples. I’d like someone to sit down with Paul and say, “Paul, tell me about your time in cycling and when did you dope, how did you dope, why did you dope? Why do you never talk about it? Why do you never explain that to any of your listeners?” I’d really like someone to ask that question, I’d be really interested to know what he’d have to say about it.

Maybe zealots like Kimmage are what we really need. For now. To get us from this extreme to someplace better.

But what about when we get there and the zealotry of a guy like Kimmage is a little more over the top than where we really want to be?

At times, too many times, Kimmage is his own worst enemy, at least from a PR standpoint.

For instance, this statement from his radio interview (I told you we’d come back to it) about Lance Armstrong regarding Comeback 2.0:

“This guy, any other way but his bullying and intimidation wrapped up in this great cloak, the great cancer martyr . . . this is what he hides behind all the time. The great man who conquered cancer. Well he is the cancer in this sport. And for four years this sport has been in remission. And now the cancer’s back.”

I mean, damn, calling ANYONE a cancer is harsh, but calling a survivor and a champion of those fighting the disease a cancer is crass beyond what many people can believe or accept. Even some who hate Lance heard that statement and thought a good deal less of Kimmage, his character and his honor.

Now, with a couple of years distance, I more fully appreciate just what Kimmage was getting at, considering the strong likelihood that Armstrong’s use of HGH, testosterone and steroids very likely caused his cancer. That cancer wasn’t just some freakish, happenstance occurrence, but a gamble that Lance made and lost.

Kimmage hates, and he doesn’t keep his hatred tightly enough checked. As a result he often comes off seeming petty and spiteful.

I don’t have an issue with hatred. It’s as natural an emotion as any other. But it can get control of you, rather than you controlling it. Then it’s dangerous and self-destructive.

Has this happened to Kimmage?

Maybe that’s why he also often seems as if he goes in to a story or an interview with preconceived notions, and that he will not accept any answer unless it fits those notions. As if he begins an interview with the story all but written, attempting to force his subject to conform to his personal views.

As I stated above, he is, or at least can seem, more a zealot than a journalist.

But is it not beautifully poetic that when Lance unloaded his prepared statement at AToC, reprimanding Kimmage for his “the cancer is back” statement, Lance did exactly as Kimmage accused him of doing?

Here’s the Armstrong quote, after Kimmage asked him why he supports and admires known dopers (Millar, Basso, Landis).

“I’m here to fight this disease.”

And:

“You are not worth the chair that you’re sitting on with a statement like that with a disease that touches everybody around the world.”

Kimmage had said what about Lance in that radio interview?

“. . . the great cancer martyr . . . this is what he hides behind all the time. The great man who conquered cancer.”

Could he have predicted Armstrong’s initial reaction any more closely?

But, since I have not nearly done justice to the actual exchange, here’s the youtube video:

The problem is that Kimmage, allowing his own hatred and venom to get the best of him, had pre-marginalized himself. It didn’t matter what Armstrong said at that point, Kimmage was already the villain.

Kimmage isn’t so often accused of being bitter and angry simply out of pique. He’s accused of being bitter and angry, because he’s bitter and angry. Some see that and dismiss him offhand.

It took me some time to understand what extraordinary courage Kimmage actually has, and I can accept Kimmage with his bitter, angry zealotry. But, I still think that his bitterness, his anger and his zealotry all work more against him than for him most of the time. They keep a lot of otherwise fans thinking of him as a crackpot, and prevent more people from taking him as seriously as they might.

Regardless of what I personally can or cannot grasp or accept, maybe it’s Kimmage and guys like him that professional cycling and its related journalism really needs. Maybe that’s the only thing that can balance out, and eventually cancel out, the extreme non-aggression of the “real journalists” currently populating, poisoning and desecrating professional cycling and its reportage.

I kind of think that there has to be something in the middle, something that sees journalists releasing their fear of the subjects they cover, asking what needs to be asked, investigating what needs investigation, following up on what needs follow up, and possessing the courage to take the anger, the indignation and occasionally the snubbing that comes along with all of that. Except without Kimmage’s fiery, self-righteous indignation.

But until we can find a bunch of people to fit that mold, I guess Kimmage and his particular brand of extremism will do alright.

— And here’s a link to a fantastic related article from The Bleacher Report, including a transcript of the radio interview that the “the cancer is back” quote originally came from, which is where I found the youtube link. If you read all the way to the end you’ll get Kimmage’s “the cancer is back” quote in context.

Heads up to the Vaughters remarks in the radio transcript.

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