Truth or Spectacle? News Media Framing of Champion Cyclists and Doping Suspicion in the Mediatized Spectacle of the Tour de France
This research compares the media framing of two champions of the Tour de France cycling race, Lance Armstrong and Chris Froome, in The Times of London and The New York Times newspapers during the Tour events of 2004 and 2017, respectively. These athletes were selected due to both their cycling prowess, and to widespread suspicions they took PEDs (doping) during their respective 2004 and 2017 Tour wins. In doing so, this research examines how news media publications portrayed suspicion of doping relative to each rider, through the identification and analysis of frames which connected the riders to suspicion of doping (rider doping suspicion frames). Furthermore, it compares whether or not these narratives differed, indicating consistency or variability in the news media constructions of rider doping suspicion.
The research findings revealed significantly fewer frames related to doping suspicion for Chris Froome compared to Lance Armstrong, despite similar grounds for doping suspicion and similar levels of Tour success. Furthermore, the findings show that Armstrong was the topic of dedicated discussions on doping suspicion in both publications, indicating the salience of doping suspicion for Armstrong compared to Froome. These findings reveal inconsistencies in the news media publications’ approaches to doping suspicion narratives, which can be connected to logics governing mediatization and media spectacle juxtaposing a tension in the news coverage between news values favoring sporting purity, and media logics facilitating the mediatized spectacle of the Tour de France event. Furthermore, analysis of framing motifs across the framing data further indicated similarities and differences between the riders that contributed to the disparity in framing between them, informing discussion of; rider media strategies, rider celebrity, national bias, and Tour public image strategies, as influences on news constructions of doping narratives.
Overall, this research concludes that news media publications are highly variable moderators of rider/doping suspicion in the Tour de France as it applies to race champions, subject to many influences and constraints inherent in the framing of Lance Armstrong and Chris Froome, within the wider context of the mediatized spectacle of the Tour de France.