LOS ANGELES - Incredulous, attentive and direct, Oprah Winfrey dug into the psyche of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong on Thursday, calling him out as a bully and a brazen liar after he admitted to years of systematic doping.
Casting aside her trademark warmth and brimming eyes, Winfrey wasted no time on niceties, plunging straight into short, direct questions that saw the seven-times Tour de France winner end years of denials.
"Were you a bully?" Winfrey challenged Armstrong, referring to the pressure he put on cycling team mates to join him in taking performance enhancing substances.
"Tell me, how were you a bully?" she persisted at one point in the first 90-minute televised interview on her OWN cable channel.
Winfrey, 58, pioneered the art of confessional TV during her 25 year-long reign on her daytime chat show, making her comfortable couches the go-to place for celebrities wanting to apologise for indiscretions or unburden their darkest secrets.
But on Thursday's broadcast, bright sofas were replaced with two hard-backed chairs, and Armstrong was made to watch video of his past victory speeches and interviews.
"You didn't just deny it. You brazenly and defiantly denied it," she told Armstrong over his years of repeated lies.
"This is too late. It is too late for probably most people and that is my fault," he conceded. "I view this situation as one big lie."
"You are suing people, and knowing they are telling the truth. What is that?" she later asked of Armstrong's legal actions against journalists, friends and fellow team members who spoke out over the years.
Armstrong, 41, dressed in an open-necked blue shirt and dark jacket, may have been expecting a different reception when he chose Winfrey as his confessor, rather than holding a news conference or issuing a statement.
"Oprah is so overbrimming with humanity that the person being interviewed hopes that a bit of it will rub off on them," said Robert Thompson, professor of pop culture at Syracuse University, before the broadcast.
"Part of sitting down and doing an interview and confessing to another person and being asked questions is almost like you are starting to pay a penalty.
"The idea is that Oprah will do that, not necessarily in a softball way, but in a gentle way. Oprah is not going to hit you on the head," Thompson told Reuters.
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