How Has Ari Fleischer Fared in Past Sports Crises?

Ryan Glasspiegel

News of Al Jazeera’s Peyton Manning story is barely 12 hours old, and there’s already a lot to unpack. He’s issued a forceful denial, as have the Colts. Last night, news broke that Manning has retained Ari Fleischer (a former White House press secretary for George W. Bush) to help with the crisis management. Fleischer acknowledged that Manning’s wife received HGH treatment, but denied that the quarterback used the drug himself.

Fleischer’s past clients have included Mark McGwire, Tiger Woods, and the BCS. In 2010, McGwire admitted to steroid use for health reasons, but denied doing so for strength, and that it would have helped him hit home runs: “There’s not a pill or an injection that’s going to give me, going to give any player the hand-eye coordination to hit a baseball.” What was the point of an admission with this silly qualification?

Tiger Woods also retained Fleischer in 2010, which came in the aftermath of his infamous Thanksgiving blow-up, as well as amidst stories about his relationship with Anthony Galea, the Canadian doctor who was found in possession of HGH at the U.S. border (which he said was for his own use). Galea treated Woods after his 2008 knee surgery. It could be argued that this story was successfully filibustered as the years have passed.

In 2009, Fleischer argued on behalf of the Bowl Championship Series, and against a playoff: “A playoff scheme would be contentious and would create a whole new level of frustration between fans and teams,” he said. The Inside the BCS Facebook campaign was mounted, with arguments that have since been debunked by the existence of a successful playoff.

There are positive testimonials on Fleischer’s web site from Bud Selig, Joe Torre, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott, and NFL VP of Communications Joe Browne. He has also provided services for the Washington Football team, which, despite much media outcry, has thus far maintained its team name. (The trademark issue in which he was hired for support is ongoing.)

At this point, the combination of sourcing and outright denials makes it impossible to know what truly happened with Peyton Manning. The biggest negative from retaining Fleischer from a PR standpoint is the assumption that one needs something spun or controlled. So far, Fleischer has done a good job with advice, admitting what must be admitted lest documentary evidence conflict it (that Manning received treatment at the clinic, and no denials that Manning’s wife received HGH) but forcefully denied other things that would be be harder to prove.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see if there are follow-up media investigations, and whether they have teeth.