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.”