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Jeremy Schaap on Te’o interview: ‘If people saw him on camera, he’s very convincing’

It’s been whirlwind couple of days for Jeremy Schaap.

“I’ve been sitting in the same conference room for the last 17 hours,” said Schaap around noon on Saturday. “I’ve been up for the last 35-36 hours. Yeah, it’s been a bit crazy.”

I called Schaap to get the backstory and his insights into landing the big interview with Manti Te’o last night. He spoke to the former Notre Dame linebacker off-camera for 2 1/2 hours.

Update: Here’s a link with the edited transcript of the interview.

Earlier, I wrote Schaap now has become part of the story. He said in his 11-minute ESPN report that he thought Te’o was “credible” in telling how he was duped in an elaborate hoax. Schaap’s view carries a lot of weight since he is the only journalist to interview Te’o.

Here’s my Q/A with Schaap.

How did the interview come about?

We became aware of the story (about nine days ago). We were trying to break the story, but Deadspin beat us to it.

It looked like I was going to get an interview with Manti on Thursday night. I flew down Thursday morning. By the time I landed (in Bradenton, Fla.), the interview was definitely off. His advisors wanted more time to consider his options. They said they weren’t ready to put him on camera.

What happened Friday?

Yesterday, at 3, (a Te’o representative) said, it’s a go, but no cameras.

What was your reaction to the no cameras part?

I said, ‘We really would like to have cameras. This is TV.’ They felt he would be more comfortable doing this without cameras. They said, “He’ll open up more in a relaxed setting. He’ll be a better interview. That’s our condition. You can ask any question you want. You can keep him as long as you want.”

Our obligation journalistically is to submit him to the tough questions. Obviously, you can accomplish those things without a camera there. I understand there are people frustrated that it wasn’t on camera. None more so than I.

Was it a smart move on their part?

He was very candid and forthcoming. Who knows if he would have been as forthcoming with cameras there?

Part of me disagrees with his advisors here. He was so comfortable. If people actually saw him on camera, he would be convincing.

The dynamic, though, changes with a camera. So you don’t know.

Did you have to negotiate to use the sound bites on air?

Yes. I said, ‘You remember when the Washington Post interviewed Joe Paterno, they put out a couple of sound bites.’ We agreed to put out some sound bites that would best tell the story. In no way were we fettered with any restrictions other than being off camera, which is disappointing.

Was there any point in the interview where you felt he was lying to you?

He admitted he lied to his father. That led to the stories that he had met her. He admitted that he mislead interviewers. It was embarrassing for him to say he never met the love of his life.

Maybe I’m the most gullible guy in the world. It’s a strange position to be everyone’s believability monitor here.

But he was calm, composed. He wasn’t hemming and hawing. He didn’t lose track of dates and events. I didn’t think he was lying. I thought he was telling the truth. I’ll be blunt about that.

Did you think twice about being so strong with your judgment?

Sure, there’s some hesitation. You’re always hesitant when you report a story like this to offer up your opinion. But this was a special circumstance. Part of my responsibility here was to share my opinions with people.

If I’m watching on TV, the first thing I want to know is, “What’s his explanation?” The second thing is, “Do I believe him?” It’s a fine line. It’s not a line I haven’t crossed before.

How did you address the speculation that Te’o created these stories to cover up that he is gay?

I didn’t ask him any questions about that. I saw no credible information that would suggest that he is gay. During the course of our interview, without my prompting, he spoke several times about his romantic relationships with women. He said he had a girlfriend after learning (the made-up person) had died.

Are you confident that you hit him hard and asked all the right questions?

I’m sure someone will point out the things I missed. I’ve avoided the Internet during the last 12 hours.

I’m sure something will come to me at some point. But at this point, considering I’ve been up for the last 35 hours, nothing comes to mind.

Did his people indicate to you whether Te’o will do more interviews and eventually answer questions on TV?

They did indicate he would do something, but they didn’t say when and where.

There are interviews that never happen with athletes in this circumstance. Is it in his best interest to do more after our interview? It probably is, because he is very credible.

Will the story start to fade away now?

I think it does. People wanted to hear his side of the story. They heard him answer questions that were aggressively put to him.

I can say he was very relieved at the end of our interview. It appeared like he had a huge weight off of his shoulders.

Is this the nuttiest story of all time?

It’s up there. I was talking to a friend today. There’s a good quote from Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes) that applies here:

“When you’ve eliminated all which is impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

6 thoughts on “Jeremy Schaap on Te’o interview: ‘If people saw him on camera, he’s very convincing’

  1. The quote is, “When you have eliminated the IMpossible.” Not the possible. Either he got that wrong or you did. Bad either way.

  2. Ed, Tom Condon, teo’s rep, is a remarkably bright man…. if he really thought te’o had nothing to hide he would put him in a news conference environment. there are just too many holes. i think the world of jeremy but his tv essay left me with more questions than answers.

    chet coppock’
    hosyt-notre dame football-WLS

  3. ESPN never should have agreed to the no cameras restriction. Schaap should have questioned him strongly and mentioned in his report about why Te’o needed a lawyer there with him and never thought to visit his “girlfreind” int he hospital. Schaap should never have voiced such a strong and highly subjective opinion that Te’o was telling the truth, especially when he admits lying a several points in the story and even Schaap couldn’t really explain what the heck actually happened here. Overall, this “interview” was an embarrassment to what is left of journalism and a further indictment of ESPN and Jeremy Schaap, both of which have proven on numerous occasions that they are far more interested in what is good for them than they are in finding the truth.

  4. I don’t believe Manti Te’o, and I don’t believe Jeremy Schaap, either. If he believes this convoluted nonsense, than he is indeed the most gullible person in the world. Spare me. His network sat on the story because it would mess up their coverage of the National Championship game. That’s why he got this interview — it was payback time.

    And ESPN also gave Te’o the gift of several days’ time for him to huddle with paid experts to come up with “plausible” explanations for every detail in the story, and then published the story in the middle of Friday night, the deadest time of the week. Now Schaap is backing him up as believable? Really? Believable to whom — two year olds?

    Not to mention all the things Schaap didn’t ask. Here are a few examples: Te’o claims he never read the Deadspin story. Let me get this straight — there is an article out there which will expose your life, and potentially ruin your draft chances, and you never read it? Really? Why not? Why didn’t Schaap press him on this?

    Why didn’t Jeremy ask him why Te’o sent the flowers to a private residence, and not a funeral home? Who does that?

    Where are the phone records to back up Te’o's story of the eight-hour phone calls?

    And, most importantly, how would Te’o know that the hoaxer was who he said he was with his “apology” if he only heard from him via Twiteer IM?

  5. From the very beginning it seems like the one thing everyone’s been asking about are Te’o's phone records. Something that would prove his stories about being in constant contact with the girl and keeping the phone on all night while they slept. Verifying that would go a very long way towards proving his side of the story, that he believed she was real.

    Te’o apparently provided texts and tweets and things of that nature to Schaap, which presumably came from his phone. But nothing has come out about his phone records or call logs or anything of that nature. And there is no reference to anything of those things in the interview transcript.

    Surely he asked Te’o about this, right?

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