Reactions to Deadspin’s Manti Te’o story

• The original bizarre story of the football player’s nonexistent dead girlfriend on Deadspin by Jack Dickey and Timothy Burke.

• “I can tell you we’re as baffled as anybody,” said a South Bend Tribune staffer when Poynter phoned Wednesday evening. “If this story was a cruel hoax, as the University of Notre Dame has now indicated, we indeed were taken in, as were many others, including officials of the Notre Dame football program,” Tribune Executive Editor Tim Harman said in a statement.

• “You can learn a lot about what happened by looking at the contradictions between other journalists’ stories,” Burke tells Poynter’s Mallary Tenore. “That was what really tipped us off, after all, that something was weird here. Major news organizations disagreed on the date of a person’s death by up to four days.”

• The South Bend Tribune didn’t delete its old Te’o stories: It yanked reporter Eric Hansen’s Oct. 12 article from the paid archives so that it could be more readily accesible, and it collected its other previously published content on the hoax here.



• Hansen writes the now-famous details about Te’o and Lennay Kekua’s meeting came from Te’o’s father, Brian:

In a taped interview on Oct. 10 with Te’o’s parents, Brian and Ottilia, Te’o’s father said the initial meeting between Manti and Kekua came in person in late November 2009, when Notre Dame played Stanford in Palo, Alto, Calif.

The detail included the touching of hands and the fact Manti thought she was cute.

“They started out as just friends,” Brian Teo added. “Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there. But within the last year, they became a couple.

“And we came to the realization that she could be our daughter-in-law. Sadly, it won’t happen now.”

Calls and e-mails to Brian Te’o Wednesday night went unreturned.

• What would you have done in Hansen’s shoes? “I don’t know anything. That’s the lesson of this crazy Manti Te’o story, isn’t it?” Michael Rosenberg writes in Sports Illustrated. About the magazine’s Te’o cover story, he writes:

I didn’t write the story, but I’m going to be honest here and say I could have written the story. …

Other media outlets had already written about Te’o’s girlfriend dying, and Te’o talked about it … I mean, we’re all supposed to have b.s. detectors in this business, but mine would not have gone off there. …

I think Te’o got duped by some twisted people. And if I’ve convinced you, then that’s a shame. I tried to tell you: I don’t know anything.

• “[S]hort of asking to see a death certificate, I’m not sure what most people would do differently in that case,” ESPN columnist Gene Wojciechowski said Wednesday night when asked about a story he did on Te’o in October.

But in researching it before I wrote the script, I remember trying to find an obituary for his girlfriend and could not. And couldn’t find any record of this car accident. But we asked Manti, could we contact Lennay’s family and he said the family would prefer not to be contacted. Could we have some photos of Lennay? He said the family would prefer not to provide those.

• “The fact that nobody tried to verify the facts in this story is stunning,” Brian Moritz writes.

This story is an embarrassment to sports journalism. The fact that this “story” was reported as fact, and nobody sniffed out anything about it, is embarrassing. It feeds the worst perceptions of sports journalism – that we’re all fanboys and fangirls, looking to tell cute little stories about games and that we’re not real reporters. …

Verifying facts doesn’t necessarily mean being confrontational. It doesn’t mean asking Te’o “Yeah, I want to make sure your grandma and girlfriend really died.” Because yeah, you’d look like a terrible person if you did that. It also doesn’t mean harboring doubts about what you’re being told. It’s doing your diligence. If you’re doing a feature story about a player who’s inspiration is his dying girlfriend, it seems obvious that you’d want her voice in the story somehow. That would mean trying to find out about her. What was she like? What happened to her? Maybe you call Stanford, where she went to school. Maybe you request the police report for the accident, which is public record. The player said her family wants privacy. Which is fine and understandable. But one of the things I always tried to do as a journalist was this: If someone didn’t want to talk to me, fine. But they had to tell me no comment. Not someone on their behalf.

• Justin Megahan “found a few tweets from people who have known for at least the last month that Lenny Kekua was a fake.”

• At a press conference Wednesday evening, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said, Te’o learned Kekua wasn’t real in late December. Swarbrick said he believed Te’o’s family was “on a timetable to release the story themselves next week when today’s story broke.”

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  • psufan9262

    Reporters, at some level, have to trust other people to provide information. Clearly, in this case, that failed them. But you can’t remove the human element completely from reporting. If Te’o’s girlfriend was just “sick” and hadn’t “died,” would they have called hospitals to check? How far do you take it? Even obituary writers have to rely heavily on information from funeral homes and hospitals. On occasion, that information has turned out to be wrong. There have been “dead” people who turned out to be alive over the years. At some point, you have to trust that what another human being is telling you is the truth because there isn’t always going to be documentation to fall back on. It’s a question of where you draw the line.