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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lance Armstrong's Attorneys Demand Apology From CBS Over Doping Allegation Story

Posted By on Wed, Jun 1, 2011 at 12:15 PM

click to enlarge Is used to winning
  • Is used to winning

No sooner had Lance Armstrong juiced his legal team last week by adding the San Francisco firm famed for helping ballplayers battle leaks in the BALCO drugs case, than Keker & Van Nest came out swinging, making a public demand that CBS apologize for doping allegations.

Attorney Elliot Peters sent a letter Wednesday to CBS News chairman Jeff Fager,  saying there were falsehoods in a May 22 60 Minutes segment, in which Armstrong's top teammate said he saw the cycling champ take banned drugs, dope other riders, and help teammates obtain dope. Armstrong's spokesman, Mark Fabiani, distributed the letter to the press.

But information cited in the letter does not appear to significantly undermine the validity of the 60 Minutes report.

The 60 Minutes episode focused largely on hardhitting allegations by former U.S. Postal Service Cycling Team member Tyler Hamilton, who claimed that Armstrong used banned drugs to win at least three Tour de France races. He also claimed the champ personally administered drugs to other riders and helped Hamilton obtain doping products.

Armstrong's attorneys, however, gave a different version of the 60 Minutes piece, which reported that Armstrong had paid $125,000 to cycling authorities, which was linked to an unusual meeting among Armstrong's representatives and antidoping testers. The outcome, the report suggested, was a coverup of evidence Armstrong might have doped during the 2001 Tour of Switzerland. The piece also presented Hamilton as saying he didn't "know the exact details," but that he had heard Armstrong brag that he had made allegations of his doping in the Tour of Switzerland "go away." 

According to the letter from Armstrong's attorneys:

"In the cold light of morning your story was either extraordinarily shoddy, to the point of being reckless and unprofessional, or a vicious hit-and-run job. In either case, a categorical on-air apology is required. ...What is particularly disturbing is that 60 Minutes had access to the true facts, could easily have verified them, and apparently chose instead to broadcast untruths and then layer innuendo on top of the falsehoods."

The letter, distributed by attorney Mark Fabiani, who has been acting as Armstrong's publicist, stated that "new evidence" shows CBS claims to be false. 

The evidence, the letter says, consists of a May 27 Washington Post story in which a Swiss antidoping official said there was no positive doping test for Armstrong during the 2001 Swiss race. He also said that a meeting in 2002 between Armstrong and antidoping officials merely involved informing the athlete about new testing methods.

However, a close viewing of the CBS 60 Minutes piece, the Washington Post story, and the team's letter suggests that the Washington Post story did not debunk 60 Minutes in the way Armstrong's lawyers claim.

The centerpiece of the Post story include assertions by Martial Saugy, the director of the lab that handled Armstrong's 2001 testing samples, saying there was no coverup by the lab. But the story also said that Saugy had contacted his superiors last year, potentially damning information.

The Post story also said that in 2010 Saugy informed World AntiDoping Agency director general David Howman "that there were 'suspicious' results from the 2001 Tour de Suisse." 

A "suspicious" test is not the same thing as a "positive" one. Drug testers routinely allow blood and urine samples they believe contain steroids or other banned products to pass. They do this simply because lab results aren't stark enough to qualify for the rigorous standard necessary for a "positive" test, which could lead to a competition ban.

Saugy's 2010 claims of suspicion with the Swiss results was a big deal for Howman. That's because last year former Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis said he'd heard Armstrong make the same boast in 2001: The Swiss doping problem magically went away.

According to the Washington Post story, when Saugy approached Howman with news of the suspicious 2001 tests, the antidoping boss halted the conversation, wanting to put Saugy in touch with U.S. federal investigators. In September, Saugy was interviewed by the FBI, the FDA, and antidoping officials, the Post reported.

A part of the 60 Minutes piece that is inconsistent with the Washington Post piece is Saugy's claim that there was nothing unfavorable about his meeting in 2002 with Armstrong where he explained doping procedures. However, CBS filmed Howman,who has a broader mandate overseeing the world antidoping movement, disagreeing with this position.

According to the show's transcript, Howman said:

You can`t have a situation where you have athletes going and having one-on-one conversations with [the] lab just for the mere perception that that would be wrong. We can`t have a situation where athletes get preferential treatment, preferential information, or even meetings of, of that nature.

Update: at 1:41 p.m. CBS responded with a statement that follows.

60 MINUTES stands by its story as truthful, accurate and fair. Lance Armstrong and his lawyers were given numerous opportunities to respond to every detail of our reporting for weeks prior to the broadcast and their written responses were fairly and accurately included in the story. Mr. Armstrong still has not addressed charges by teammates Tyler Hamilton and George Hincapie that he used performance enhancing drugs with them.

1) The letter from Keker & Van Nest, Mr. Armstrong's attorneys, claims that there was no "positive" or "suspicious" test from the 2001 Tour de Suisse:

Mr. Armstrong's teammate, Tyler Hamilton, told 60 MINUTES about the 2001 Tour de Suisse test. Included in his interview are the same facts that Hamilton reported under oath to U.S. federal officials under the penalty of perjury.

60 MINUTES also reported that the Swiss Anti-Doping Laboratory Director, Dr. Martial Saugy, told U.S. officials and the FBI that that there was a "suspicious" test result from the Tour de Suisse in 2001. This was confirmed by a number of international officials who have linked the "suspicious" test to Armstrong. In recent days, Dr. Saugy finally confirmed to the media that there were "suspicious" test results.

2) The letter from Armstrong's attorneys claims that 60 MINUTES was inaccurate in reporting about a meeting between Dr. Saugy, Mr. Armstrong and former U.S. Postal Team Director, Johan Bruyneel:

60 Minutes reported there was a meeting between Dr. Saugy, Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Bruyneel. Dr. Saugy refused our requests for an interview, but after the broadcast he confirmed that the meeting took place. Mr. Armstrong, after our broadcast, said he couldn't recall that any such meeting took place.

3) Mr. Armstrong's lawyers claim our story was "shoddy," while we found at least three inaccuracies in their letter:

They claimed that 60 MINUTES reported the meeting took place at the Swiss lab; they claimed that 60 MINUTES reported the meeting took place in 2001; and they claimed that 60 MINUTES said it was a "secret" meeting. All three are wrong.

David Howman, managing director of the World Anti-Doping Agency, told 60 MINUTES that any meeting between Mr.Armstrong, Mr. Brunyeel and the Swiss lab director, Dr. Saugy, would be "highly unusual" and "inappropriate."

Jeff Fager, chairman, CBS News, executive producer, 60 MINUTES

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