GroundFloor Media & CenterTable Blog

Lance Armstrong may never win in the courtroom of public opinion, but he can claim victory in his highly publicized case with federal investigators.

In contrast to the government’s headline-grabbing announcement two years ago that it planned to investigate Armstrong’s alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs, the feds on Friday quietly dropped the case for lack of evidence.

It started making the rounds with the media on Wednesday, but the news was a whisper compared with the crescendo it reached when the case was announced. It’s one of the failings of the media, and a lesson for clients: The launching of an investigation—or the filing of a civil suit—often gets more press than its resolution.

It was only by chance that someone found out this case had been dropped. Many cases simply get tucked away with nary a word, leaving people to wonder what happened—if they haven’t forgotten about them altogether.

We work hard to help clients understand that the government, which media outlets regularly criticize for alleged waste and wrongdoing, gets a free pass when it announces investigations. It gets back to the cliché of being guilty until proven innocent.

Armstrong’s PR team played the case artfully over the last two years. It didn’t engage in the back-and-forth drama engulfing the world-famous cyclist. Instead, it asserted his innocence and pointed to a host of other failed investigations. The truth, or lack of provable evidence, came out in the legal case, but that won’t make big headlines.

At least one media outlet, The Washington Post, notes the irony and turned the spotlight inward:

“While something less than a complete exoneration of Armstrong, the muted end of the investigation raises questions about the media: Did they go too far in painting a picture of misfeasance and illegal behavior by the seven-time Tour de France winner? And did they fail to ask some tough questions about the government’s case?”

Armstrong’s team always pointed to the facts, and even responded to a frontal assault by “60 Minutes” with a single tweet and created a response website that laid out the facts and included backup countering the stream of innuendo.

Robert Luskin, one of Armstrong’s attorneys, told The Washington Post that the news media lapped up the story because they felt it was too good not to be true.

“They become seduced by their sources and take too much at face value,” he said. “No one stops and says, ‘That doesn’t sound right to me.’ ”

(This post also appears on Ragan’s PRDaily)

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