Wick Communications

Questioning Te’o’s questioners

In journalism on January 25, 2013 at 9:26 am

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What is your takeaway on the strange turn in the story of Manti Te’o?

Many of you know him as the star linebacker and Heisman Trophy finalist for Notre Dame’s football team. He was one of the most publicized college athletes of the last year. The oft-told story of his success on the gridiron in the wake of tragedy was an inspiration.

Until we learned that part of that inspirational story was lie, or a misunderstanding … or something.

Last week we learned that his girlfriend, a young woman whom we had been told had died of leukemia, was a fictional character created by another man. At this writing, many fans are wondering whether the linebacker had been duped in an elaborate and cruel hoax or whether he was part of the ruse to win hearts during his run-up to the Heisman voting.

Neither of which are the right questions in my mind.

As a newspaper editor, I’m wondering why someone didn’t question the relationship earlier.

Take, for instance, the media in the San Francisco Bay Area. Te’o’s girlfriend was supposedly a Stanford graduate he had met after a game there. When televised reports noted her death, why didn’t the San Francisco Chronicle or even the Stanford Daily look into the tragedy as a localized story?

In South Bend, Ind., where Notre Dame football is second only to god, where were the enterprising reporters who might have thought it odd that Te’o never visited the love of his life as she lay dying in the hospital? …

Have you ever heard the old saw, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out?” Clearly, many, many reporters simply believed the story of the star athlete and his dying girlfriend without bothering to ask to speak with the girl or her family. They simply took it on faith, particularly after news of the supposed relationship spread. If they read it somewhere else, they figured it must be true.

Now, of course, everyone has questions. And some of them are a bit ridiculous, if you ask me. The pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Take, for instance, this question printed in USA Today last week:

Te’o and (Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack) Swarbrick asserted that the players’ relationship existed solely online. Did he have other relationships like this in the past? What other relationships has he had?

He’s a college football player, not a presidential candidate. I don’t think he has to provide the national media with a list of every girl he’s kissed. But if you plan on using those kisses as the basis of your story… check it out.

Clay

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