All sorts of reaction this morning to the most incredible story I can recall. Many are blaming reporters like Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel and ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski, who did big high-profile reports on Manti Te’o, for not confirming that the girlfriend actually existed and that she actually died.
Writes Josh Levin at Slate:
If Thamel or anyone else at SI had used Nexis or Google, they would’ve discovered that Lennay Kekua (not to mention her brother and sister) didn’t exist. A reporter doesn’t expect to learn that his subject’s dead girlfriend is nothing but a fake Twitter avatar. But a reporter, especially at a fact-checked magazine like SI, also doesn’t generally put someone’s name into print and say that she smashed up her car on April 28 without confirming the spelling and the wreckage. That assumption of basic competence filters down to everyone else in the sports media ecosystem: If Manti Te’o’s story of woe is in Sports Illustrated, then it must be true.
Later, Levin writes:
Manti Te’o was a sports hero, and his standout play this year demanded the details to flesh out that storyline. There’s a journalistic cliché: If your mother says she loves you, check it out. For sports hagiographers, it’s more like: If he makes a lot of tackles, don’t you dare check anything. Stardom demands that feature writers color in the lines with off-field greatness. And Te’o’s character, it seemed, was unimpeachable. After all, there had been all these stories about how humble and religious he was, and how he’d been led to Notre Dame to do something.
Regarding Wojciechowski, he said he did try to find an obituary for the dead girlfriend and a newspaper account of her accident. However, I’m sure he did it to try to learn more details about the girl in effort to personalize the story. He wasn’t trying to confirm that she actually existed.
Wojciechowski also said he asked Te’o for a picture of the girl. Te’o responded that the family wanted to remain private. Wojciechowski decided to respect that privacy.
I’ve known Wojciechowski for more than 20 years. He is at the top of his class when it comes to being a thorough and diligent reporter.
Really, who among us out there wouldn’t have done the same thing? Name me a reporter who says, “Sorry to hear about your loss, Manti. Can I see a copy of the death certificate?”
Michael Rosenberg on SI.com writes:
The question is: Who got duped?
Well, most of media, for one. This includes Sports Illustrated — we put Te’o on our cover in October, and the story includes Te’o talking about his girlfriend dying. 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. Evidently, I’m not alone, because dozens of media outlets mentioned the girlfriend without wondering if she existed. In that situation, a reporter tries to talk to her family, other people who knew her — you fill in the edges of the story. But if you don’t get a hold of those people, would you really think “Hey, this is probably just a hoax, and this girlfriend doesn’t exist”? Be honest.
In this new world, if a player’s grandma dies, he/she better have a death certificate handy. Right? And a picture too.
Otherwise, we’re not running the story. Is that what it is going to come to?