Two Californians have filed a class action suit against Lance Armstrong and his publishers, Penguin and Random House, demanding refunds and other unspecified compensation for their purchases of Armstrong's inspirational -- and, as it turns out, fictional -- autobiographies, It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life (2000) and sequel Every Second Counts (2003):
Political consultant Rob Stutzman and chef Jonathan Wheeler would not have spent money on the titles, according to their submission, had they known "the true facts concerning Armstrong's misconduct and his admitted involvement in a sports doping scandal that has led to his recent and ignominious public exposure".
In both books, Armstrong is emphatic that the drug charges against him are false.
"Our team had 'zero tolerance' for any form of doping," runs one passage in Every Second Counts. "It sounded like the usual cliched statement, but we meant it. We were absolutely innocent."
(Apropos of absolutely nothing, Stutzman was once Arnold Schwarzenegger's chief of staff.)
I get the outrage, but a lawsuit? Really? In Australia, a library reshelved Armstrong's memoirs in the fiction section, to the amusement and approval of the locals. That seems, shall we say, a proportional response. The Americans' resort to a lawsuit seems to justify the prejudice many hold abroad -- that Americans are reflexively litigious -- and also, much like the chorus of affronted indignation over Beyonce's lip-synching at the inauguration (honestly, who cares?!) suggests a strain of rather grim self-righteousness.
That dubious quality pushes this story perilously close to Onion territory:
In their legal submission, the plaintiffs say they suffered "monetary injury" and should be compensated.
"Although Stutzman does not buy or read many books, he found Armstrong's book incredibly compelling and recommended the book to several friends," it reads.
Armstrong should certainly not have the right to profit from his lies, and it would be good to see him compelled to turn over the proceeds of his book sales to a charity. And as the BBC article points out, there are parties out there making large claims that appear to be justified:
- The Sunday Times, which was forced into an out-of-court settlement in 2004 after Armstrong sued over articles questioning his integrity, is seeking around $1.5m (£945,000)
- Dallas-based SCA Promotions, is looking to recover $12.5m (£7.8m) in bonus payments made to Armstrong for his Tour de France wins
- The International Cycling Union wants back $4m (£2.5m) in prize money
I feel for the two American litigants, but come on. I don't mean to diminish the pain of discovering your idol is a sham. That's a difficult thing for anyone to grapple with. But the presumption that the restitution of $24.95 is going to mitigate that pain to any reasonable extent strikes me as weirdly naive. You?