Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Peyton Manning: The Anatomy of A Hit Piece

In the last few days, we have seen an amazing example of a “journalistic” hit piece. This comes in the form of a false story about Peyton Manning which was pimped so hard by ProFootballTalk that I honestly hope Manning sues the site and NBC, its owner.

The story began with a report by Al Jazeera based on undercover reporting by scandal-ridden British hurdler Liam Collins. The story was that Peyton Manning secretly used human growth hormone (HGH), a banned substance, while he was a patient at the Guyer Institute in 2011. Charles Sly claimed to be on the team that treated Manning, claimed to have personal knowledge of Manning coming to the institute after hours to receive shots of HGH, and claimed that the Institute then sent HGH to Manning’s wife in Florida.

The story is false. Indeed, it was quickly discovered that while Sly was an unpaid intern at the Guyer Institute for three months, that wasn’t until two years after Manning ended his treatment there. So he couldn’t have seen anything. What’s more, Sly recanted his story the moment he realized he had been taped making it. In interviews, Sly has admitted that he made this story up because he thought Collins had contacts in English Premier League soccer and he used Manning’s name (among others) to impress Collins with his ability to get banned drugs to athletes.

Enter Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com.

I’ve talked about Florio before. He’s a lousy lawyer from West Virginia who used his contacts with certain agents to build a rumor site that NBC bought. Many of his stories are so steeped in paranoia that it’s easy to see him hidden in a bunker holding a gun toward the door as he types out his typo-ridden crap. He’s also a Tom Brady apologist and a Peyton Manning hater for whatever reason. This is important because Florio is a man who spent months parsing every statement made against Brady and attacking his accusers, yet you are about to see something very different here.

Florio’s first article on the issue came late on the 26th. It was rather benign. It noted the allegation in detail. It noted that Manning completely denied the allegations, as did Manning’s agent, and it suggested that if the allegations are untrue, then Manning could possibly sue Al Jazeera for defamation. It does, however, suggest that since the NFL wasn’t testing for HGH yet in 2011, “players were essentially on the honor system.”

The following morning, Florio gets rolling when he notes that Peyton Manning hired Ari Fleischer to help refute the story. At this point, the tone changes dramatically. First, Florio scoffs at the idea that Manning needed to hire Fleischer and suggests he should have been satisfied just issuing a denial. He essentially suggests that hiring a PR guy, which he notes that many athletes do, is suspicious.

Then he digs in deep. In the same article, he points out that Manning issued his denial to Chris Mortensen of ESPN. Florio attacks Mortensen’s credibility as someone “who has a long relationship with the Manning family.” He then says, “Patriots fans will appreciate — or not — the irony of Mortensen’s early involvement in the life cycle of this specific story.” This is an attack on Mortensen’s reporting on deflategate, which Florio spent months attacking. The suggestion is that Mortensen is a bad reporter who will shade the truth to help Manning or hurt Brady. Keep in mind though, Manning is simply giving a statement. There is no reporting here, so Mortensen’s credibility is not relevant.

Then Florio says that while Manning says he’s not worried about the story, Manning is worried enough to comment and to hire Fleischer. In other words, Florio suggests that the fact Manning is responding is evidence that something about the story must be true.

Florio then parses Manning’s statement to attack Manning’s wife and he suggests that Manning’s statement is “odd” and that “some” are interpreting it as Manning leaving the door open to blame his wife (no one has said this, by the way). He then notes that it’s “noteworthy” that Manning’s wife hasn’t commented. And he plays this game of suggesting the fact that Manning attacks parts of the claim in greater detail than others means that Manning’s defense is... well, it’s up to you what that means wink wink.

He finished with the truly unfair assessment that “With so many statements and reports and developments emerging in a fairly short time frame, it’s fair to wonder what the next statement, report, or development will be.” This suggests that the facts are fluid and evolving and going both ways. However, except for the initial statement, which Florio admits here was recanted, every statement is a consistent flat out denial.

A few hours later, the Broncos issue a statement backing Manning. PFT reports this and concludes with this: “The allegation in the report is that Manning used HGH while he was battling neck injuries near the end of his tenure with the Colts, not during his time with the Broncos. The Colts have not commented.” In others, Team Florio dismisses this because only what the Colts say will matter... just wait.

An hour later, Mike Ditka dismisses the report by saying Al Jazeera is not credible. PFT dismisses Ditka’s claim as an opinion held “among conservatives” and then boosts Al Jazeera by saying they have won awards for their reporting. So has Chris Mortensen, by the way, but PFT never mentioned that during any of their attacks on him.

About an hour later, Florio writes an article in which he says that Manning needs to see how Roger Clemens responded to PED allegations and pimps his own (self-published) book on the matter. Keep in mind that Florio typically dismisses the credibility of anyone with even the slightest economic interest, like anyone pimping a book.

An hour after the Broncos issued their statement, which Florio dismissed by claiming that only a statement from the Colts would matter, the Colts issue a statement. They unequivocally backed Manning. Florio responds by wondering why the Colts would even respond to this... “Peyton Manning hasn’t played in a game for the Colts for nearly five years. But because Manning reportedly used HGH while still with the Colts in 2011, the Colts apparently felt compelled to respond.” Gee, I guess that’s why the Colts said something. Notice the rope-a-dope here. First, Florio dismisses any response except one from the Colts, but when the Colts issue a response he suggests there is something odd about the Colts bothering to respond. Think about this. This shell game makes it impossible for Manning to defend himself because Florio attacks anyone who tries.

Florio ends this story with this snide and suggestive little turd: “For a story that has been recanted by the only person who told it, a lot of people are making statements about it.” In other words, he’s suggesting that the fact that people are denying the story is proof that the story is true. He then goes even further into advocacy and says the fact that the story has been recanted doesn’t mean it’s not true. Think about that: evidence of untruth is proof of truth and responding to an untruth is proof that it’s really true. Welcome to paranoid conspiracy land.

And it doesn’t stop there. At the same time as the Colts’ statement, the Guyer Institute issued a statement saying that it’s not true, that they’re shocked someone would violate Mrs. Manning’s medical confidences, and that this guy wasn’t employed there at a time when he could have witnessed what he claimed to witness. Enter Florio. Florio attacks the statement as “clunky and confused,” even though the statement is a clear complete denial.

He then plays another shell game by saying that it’s impossible to both be untrue what Sly has said and yet violate a medical confidence. Basically, he says that if it’s not true, then it doesn’t violate a confidence. Ergo, it must be true. This is both splitting hairs far beyond what is reasonable and utterly false logic. Medical privacy extends to the fact of treatment no matter what was or was not done. In other words, just saying she was a patient is a violation as is suggesting a treatment. But Florio is trying to claim Sly’s statement can only be a violation if what he said was true. That’s simply false. And pretending that Guyer is trying to play fast and loose with his statement is paranoia, not wisdom or insight.

Florio also dismisses the fact of Sly not working there. He says that even though Sly didn’t work there at the right time, he could have heard something from other employees. So Sly is just passing on rumors now? Then why did Sly’s recanted statement involved Sly seeing this himself and doing it himself? Florio ignores that.

Florio then says, “as the statements pile up regarding the Peyton Manning report, Ashley Manning’s silence becomes even more conspicuous.” First, note idea that “the statements pile up” is meant to suggest that there is a genuine conflict. There isn’t. Every single statement, including one by the initial accuser, entirely refutes the report. Yet, Florio wants to leave the impression that there are competing statements. Even worse, notice that Florio is now moving the ball again and demanding a statement from Manning’s wife. Every time a statement is issued, Florio dismisses the person making it and demands one from someone else. Then, after they make a statement, he uses that statement as evidence that they are worried about the truth. This is gotcha. Worse yet, he is suggesting that to satisfy him, Ashley Manning needs to violate her own right to medical confidence even though Peyton has denied everything.

He then finishes this report with the asinine suggestion that we will never know “the full, objective, and unvarnished truth.” Bull. The truth is clear and believing the recanted report is an exercise in willful self-deception.

Later that night, Manning was asked if he will sue and he said he probably will. Florio jumps on this. First he notes that Manning is unlikely to win because of the high standard (remember that he suggested suing earlier?). Then he cautions Manning that this will open up his private life. Then he gets incredible. He says that if Manning had said nothing, then this story would have died. You have to read this to believe it:
If Manning had said nothing about the allegations, how many mainstream news outlets would have ignored it? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I decided not to mention it until Manning issued a statement denying it.
This is from a man who jumped on this story and kept demanding statements from person after person, claiming that the lack of a statements was evidence of its truth.

Today, he wrote another article in which he said this story only has legs because of Manning “strongly, repeatedly disputing it.” Get this: “If the goal was to get no one to write about the story, the approach shouldn’t have been to issue statements. It should have been to pick up the phone and call every reporter with any degree of influence or credibility and persuade them to leave it alone.” And the bullsh*t gets even deeper:

Frankly, PFT wouldn’t have even written a story about it if the response had been “no comment” from Manning, Manning’s representative, the Broncos, the Colts, or the NFL.

That’s total crap and Florio knows it. Florio was going to do his best to prove this story true no matter how much truth he needed to twist and how paranoid he needed to get.

As for pulling strings to kill the story, this story hit the rumor sites before any reputable reporter even knew about it. It was spreading everywhere. How exactly does Manning stop a TMZ or a Mike Florio from spreading it as the absolute truth? And what do you think paranoid Florio would have said if he’d learned that Manning was trying to talk people out of printing this?

This is the kind of hit-piece journalism that has become the norm. Unethical, paranoid incompetents have taken over the media and they are using false logic and deception to blur reality and spewing conspiracy as fact. This is true in sports as it has become in politics. Honestly, our media needs too be purged. It needs a real code of ethics and serious training in logic, recognizing bias and the fundamentals of journalism. And guys like Florio, need to be ejected by places like NBC.

I hope Manning sues him.

Update: That "reputable" news source Al Jazeera is now claiming they never made any allegations against Manning. They claim they only talked about his career, his treatment and then said that his wife got HGH. That's such obvious bull that it's going to blow up on them.


Kit said...

Huffington Post writer Lydia O'Connor is taking a similar line as Mr. Florio.

Kit said...

"Unethical, paranoid incompetents have taken over the media and they are using false logic and deception to blur reality and spewing conspiracy as fact."

I think a more accurate explanation comes in the form of Mrs. Rowling's characterization of Rita Skeeter of the Daily Prophet in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Kit said...

And on that note, a New York Times Magazine writer did a hatchet job on the man who codified our image of Middle America, Norman Rockwell: LINK

tryanmax said...

To guys like Florio, saying "no comment" is tantamount to a confession. And he honestly suggests that saying that would've caused him to walk away!? What a dishonest turd.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Huffpo started this along with Al Jazeera, and they don't have the integrity or common sense to know when to back out and print a retraction.

Unfortunately, this has become standard for our journalistic industry. That's why wrote this, not because I feel Manning needs a defense, but because it shows just how twisted journalism has become. It has become the purview of hateful paranoids with agendas who think that the fact they want something to be true must make it so and by God they're going to find a way to make it believable.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, On Rita Skeeter, again, you've got the leftist Rowlings putting her finger on yet another leftist sin. It's interesting. She's very much like Orwell - a leftist who sees all the problems her side has invented, but lacks to ability to grasp that it's her side doing these things.

I've seen several attacks on Rockwell lately. The biggest problem is that the Middle Class likes him, so the elite want to destroy him. Then add in the fact that he's patriotic, pro-tradition, pro-family, and suggestive conservative and he's worse than Hitler to them.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Exactly. That's what pisses me off here. Florio is determined to get Manning (just as he was determined to save Brady), and he spews out amazingly hypocritical bull. If Manning had said no comment, he would be writing a flood of articles asking why Manning won't defend himself and claiming that this proves that he must be guilty... just like he is basically doing with Ashley Manning. But Manning commented, so he find amazing reasons to dismiss it, including most incredibly, the very fact of responding meaning he must have something to hide.

This is the ultimate gotcha. Say nothing = have something to hide. Deny = trying to cover up truth. The more people who deny = the greater the need to cover up.

And then add, admit you lied = just proof that you were telling the truth before and are lying now.

This is how conspiracy works. It turns everything into what the conspiracy spinner wants.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. I think Al Jazeera now trying to claim that they never said anything about Manning will damage their credibility a lot.

Koshcat said...

Nice take down of Florio. Too bad not enough people will read it. There was much about this story that was bothersome. First, the report that an employee of a clinic admitted that Peyton was even a patient is against HIPPA regulations. Now I believe Peyton did not keep this secret but he does have the right to medical privacy. Second, he was actually an NFL player at the time. The Colts had the rights to him but he was not actively playing. HGH is used to recover from injuries faster so it isn't beyond belief that he might use it after major surgery but hard to argue he was using it as a performance enhancement since he wasn't playing. There is no physical proof he used it; no smoking syringe. So at best it is hearsay and rumors. Finally, who cares if he did? I think most reasonable people would understand the desire to heal faster to get back to playing as they would do the same thing if it meant their career.

I think Manning should sue but I'm not sure who best to sue-probably Al Jazeera. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if Florio can be sued because he is spouting his opinion and he has the right to say any incredibly stupid thing he wants. He should be fired, but that is only my opinion.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Koshcat! I wish more people would start reviewing the work of "journalists" for these kinds of things. The whole profession has become venomous with these people playing gotcha and trying to make things true regardless of the evidence.

I know that journalism has never been pure, but I have to think that in the past, NBC would have fired a guy like Florio long before letting him put these kinds of reports... ditto on Al Jazeera.

In terms of suing him, Florio is careful never to actually say anything. He always just suggests. And when he wants to say something that he can't attribute to someone else, he invents the "people are saying." He does it too here, where he says that "some" are suggesting that Manning left the door open to blame his wife. That's Florio's way of trying to avoid saying that this is his own theory when no one else has said that.

In terms of HGH, I don't know enough about its use to heal injuries, so I can't comment on whether or not I think that's good or bad. But I do generally think that letting these guys take things like steroids is a bad idea.

EPorvaznik said...

ESPN-style "journalism," spreading its disgustingly irresponsible wings to other outlets ... as if Al Jazeera needed help with pushing false narratives as truth.

Thanks for keeping them all accountable, AP!

AndrewPrice said...

You're welcome, Eric!

Sadly, I think this is becoming the norm in journalism. There seems to be this idea that if there is even a hint of guilt, no matter how discredited, then they can and should run with the story. And not only that, they try to make it real. It's despicable.

EPorvaznik said...

Don't need to remind me of that. Thank God for guys like you and John Ziegler shining light on the truth, no matter how windmill-tilting it may seem.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Eric. We can always hope that one day things will turn again and we'll get a reputable media.

Koshcat said...

I don't want you to think I believe taking HGH is ok. More along the lines of the Chris Rock set on OJ when he says, "he shouldn't have killed her, but I understand."

AndrewPrice said...

LOL! Nice! Chris Rock can be quite funny! :)

I honestly don't know much about it. I tend to accept the opinion of doctors on these things. If they think it's worth using, then I see no reason we shouldn't.

Kit said...

So the worst that they've "proven" might have happened is that Peyton Manning took steroids to help him recover from a neck surgery. On medical leave.

And likely prescribed by a doctor.

AndrewPrice said...

That's the funny thing Kit. If you listen to Al Jazeera's attempt at CYA, all they claim they proved was that Manning's wife received HGH at a time when Manning was out of football, being treated for a neck injury.

A more realistic reading though is that they have accused Manning of exactly of what you said... taking a banned medical substance as part of his neck surgery treatment under doctor's orders.

Of course, they also accused about 20 Green Bay Packers of taking everything from pain killers to steroids, but Florio has ignored that until today because he wanted to get Manning, not the Packers.

Kit said...

"A more realistic reading though is that they have accused Manning of exactly of what you said... taking a banned medical substance as part of his neck surgery treatment under doctor's orders."

Which makes Peyton Manning look better than how they are trying to make him look. And also raises the possible need for the NFL to adjust it's steroid policy.

Kit said...

What word are they attaching to the suffix of "-gate"?

Peytongate? Manninggate? Neckgate?

AndrewPrice said...

No "gate" yet for some reason.

On your steroid point, I think that's an excellent point. The reason I haven't made that argument however, is that I think the evidence is clear that this never happened and I don't want to get into an argument of excusing Manning's behavior when I don't think it even happened. When you do that, people who want to believe all allegations automatically assume that it must be true because you're making alternative arguments.

It is a good point though.

Kit said...


First Rule of American Scandals:
If there is no "gate" then there is no scandal.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, That seems to be true, oddly.

EPorvaznik said...

Well, based on evidence, or lack thereof against Penn State, Paterno and Sandusky, that explains no "-gate," but didn't stop ESPN and Sara Ganim into duping far too many into thinking there was a scandal.

Yeah, yeah, queue up Guns N' Roses' "Dead Horse." ;-)

Anthony said...

I couldn't care less about Manning, but that is some truly awful journalism.

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew - Sadly, real "journalism" is on life support. Let's hope a cure can be discovered soon, or we may have to pull the plug.

AndrewPrice said...

Eric, I do recall a serious rush to judgement and a quick condemnation of a lot of people by ESPN and the public. And that is never good.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I like Manning and think he, as a human being deserves better, though I'm not a super fan or anything. What bothers me here is the journalistic display, not the target of it. It bothers me that this kind of "journalism" is acceptable. Now you can basically destroy anyone with a conspiracy theory that makes you guilty just by the very act of denying the conspiracy.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Displays of genuine journalism are incredibly rare these days. Even putting the awfulness of something like this aside, I just don't see journalists doing the work of finding actual stories and developing them. It's just too easy to invent stories with spin, conspiracy and the slightest hint of a fact.

I wish we could pull the plug and start over.

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