You can be sure Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey’s reporting on the Manti Te’o story is being dissected at journalism schools throughout the country. They did a solid job putting together the pieces of this incredible puzzle. They set a new standard for reporting through social media.
Yet I have a quibble with their story, and it isn’t insignificant. The end of the post includes this passage:
A friend of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo told us he was “80 percent sure” that Manti Te’o was “in on it,” and that the two perpetrated Lennay Kekua’s death with publicity in mind. According to the friend, there were numerous photos of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and Te’o together on Tuiasosopo’s now-deleted Instagram account.
The “80 percent sure” was cited in most news accounts as possible evidence that Te’o was in on the hoax.
If I’m the editor, I don’t let that quote go through. Who was this friend of Tuiasosopo? Was this person also involved? Friends have a tendency to talk out of school. Maybe this person exaggerated the quote just to be part of the story?
Also, how can Deadspin be sure there were pictures of Te’o with Tuiasosopo?
Also, there’s the “80 percent” angle. What does that mean? Obviously, the person isn’t sure.
So now you’re running an incredibly damning quote from a single source who likely doesn’t know the complete story. 80 percent sure is long way from 100 percent sure in this instance.
And even if that friend was certain, most editors would require a corroborating source or two before running such an allegation. It is the only place in the story where Te’o is linked to being more than a victim of a hoax. The strong allegation is too much to hang on one person.
Clearly, there are plenty of questions for Te’o. However, using that “80 percent sure” quote wasn’t fair to him in this instance.