Former Bush administration press secretary Ari Fleischer is leading the public relations charge to defend Peyton Manning in the wake of bombshell doping allegations tossed at the Denver Broncos' star quarterback.
Fleischer, who runs a sports communications firm, blasts the Al Jazeera report that Manning took human growth hormone in 2011 as "junk journalism."
"There's no truth to it," Fleischer tells The Denver Post.
"What they have is a well-known con man from England who secretly recorded a former intern."
Charlie Sly, the source behind the Manning allegation cited in the investigative report, "The Dark Side," posted a video on YouTube
saying he'd been videotaped without his knowledge or consent by Al Jazeera's Liam Collins, a former British hurdler.
"The statements on any recordings or any communications that Al Jazeera plans to air are absolutely false and incorrect," Sly says in the video. "To be clear, I am recanting any such statements and there is no truth to any statement of mine that Al Jazeera plans to air. Under no circumstances should any of those statements recordings or communications be aired."
The explosive report, aired Sunday night on Al Jazeera America, was billed as a six-month undercover investigation into "the secret world of doping."
Sly also told ESPN he dropped famous names and told lies to Collins to "determine whether this guy was legitimate or just trying to steal some knowledge about the business," The Washington Times
"Someone who worked there said [Manning and his wife, Ashley] had been there before," he says, the Washington Times reports. "That was the extent of any knowledge I had. I feel badly. I never saw any files. This is just amazing that it reached this point."
Sly was a pharmacy intern in 2013 at the Guyer Institute in Indianapolis, where Manning had treatment in 2011. The Al Jazeera report identifies Sly as a pharmacist, the Times notes.
Fleischer — press secretary for President George W. Bush when the administration infamously linked Saddam Hussein's regime to weapons of mass destruction — has handled some high-profile sports crises since then, with mixed success, the New York Daily News
Some of Fleischer's clients have included Tiger Woods, when his extramarital affairs exploded into the headlines and led to a confrontation with his wife in 2009; and Mark McGuire, for whom he arranged an "apology tour" in 2010 in the wake of a steroid scandal.
In the Manning scandal, the response from the star was quick and deliberate: He told ESPN he'd gotten legal therapy at the Indianapolis clinic including including nutrition and oxygen therapy, "but never HGH."
The Broncos and Manning's former team, the Indianapolis Colts, also came to his defense.
"Knowing Peyton Manning and everything he stands for, the Denver Broncos support him 100 percent," the team said. "These are false claims made to Al Jazeera, and we don't believe the report."
The Colts, whom Manning played for from 1998-2011, issued a statement calling the report "utterly ridiculous."
"We are thoroughly familiar with Peyton's tireless work habits, his medical history, and, most importantly, his integrity," the Colts said.
"We also note that the 'source' of this allegation has since recanted his story."
Al Jazeera's report claims Manning received HGH from the Indianapolis anti-aging clinic in 2011 while he was still with the Colts. It said the drug, which was later banned by the NFL in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, was delivered to his wife so that the quarterback's name was never attached to the shipments.
Manning told ESPN he's never taken anything that was ever sent to his wife nor has he ever used performance enhancing drugs.
"Absolutely not. And what hurts me the most about this is whoever this guy is, this slapstick trying to insinuate that in 2011, when I more or less had a broken neck," he said. "... But I had a broken neck and I busted my butt to get healthy, put in a lot of hard work. I saw a lot of doctors."
The report also alleges other high-profile athletes have gotten PEDs.
The attorney for Phillies slugger Ryan Howard said his client will fight claims made in the Al Jazeera report that his client received performance-enhancing drugs.
William Burck called the claims made against Howard and Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals "outright lies."
"It's inexcusable and irresponsible that Al Jazeera would provide a platform and broadcast outright lies about Mr. Howard and Mr. Zimmerman," Burck said in a statement.
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