Sports Illustrated beats NYT on story of how Deadspin beat ESPN on Te'o story

The New York Times | Sports Illustrated

The New York Times' account of how ESPN frittered away a tip about Manti Te'o's imaginary girlfriend has everything you'd want from a story-behind-the-story. It sports a marvelous headline ("As ESPN Debated, Manti Te’o Story Slipped Away"), and is a fascinating account of how Te'o's reps muscled ESPN after the story broke.

And, in a bizarre echo of the story it tells, it arrives after Sports Illustrated's account of the same events.

Both news organizations speak with ESPN News Chief Vince Doria, who tells the Times "We were very close," and tells SI "We felt we were close to reporting it." Richard Sandomir and James Andrew Miller report ESPN's tip came from Te'o's agent Tom Condon. Doria told Deitsch that ESPN's "interest in the story was Te'o, and he has now told his story." Three unnamed ESPN executives told the Times "they should have published on Jan. 16."

The executives, who would not be identified because they did not want to second-guess their organization by name, said that the network’s focus on waiting until getting an interview with Te’o was a mistake.

Sandomir and Miller's account suggests ESPN was sunk not by its financial interests in broadcasting college football but by its reliance on "the power of video."

[Tommy] Craggs, the Deadspin editor, did not think much of ESPN’s assertion on the value of video or its invocation of standards.

“When they talk about standards, they may be talking about waiting for some kind of official response from Notre Dame or Manti, which is just idiotic,” Craggs said. He added: “This is a story about a social media hoax. As soon as the principals know we’re working on it, the story starts to change. They start ripping things down.”

Related: Te'o's father says "he's not a liar. He's a kid," after Te'o admits to lying about dead girlfriend

Previously: Did Deadspin beat ESPN to the Te’o story because it didn’t care about preserving ‘access’?

Postlude: The Times story also sports a meta correction: "An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of the girlfriend in the hoax involving Manti Te’o. It is Lennay Kekua, not Kakua."

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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