The Sports Illustrated transcript release of Manti Te'o's full interview with Pete Thamel provided a window into how deep the Lennay Kekua was and just how many layers existed. While the truth is still in the shadows, several writers who interviewed Te'o and profiled the star linebacker are speaking out as to how they could miss the Kekua hoax.
With all the media angles in this story, it's perhaps the one most up for debate and discussion. How could dozens of outlets, dozens of writers, dozens of top professionals, miss this!?
In hindsight the ruse looks obvious. The way Te'o couldn't remember significant details. The way the story continuously changed. The fact that there was absolutely no record of Kekua anywhere. But it's also hard to understand in hindsight the level of trust these reporters had for Te'o.
One of those writers was Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune, who infamously wrote about Te'o and Kekua meeting in person at Stanford. In an interview wtih 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis, Hansen spoke about his full trust of Te'o and how the Kekua myth slipped through his fingers...
"I have not looked for anybody's death certificate in the 30 years I've been a sports writer. Maybe when I get through this and I get to the end of this I'm going to take a look at how I covered the story and see if I need to make changes in the way I went about doing things. What I did do, Dan, was I reached out -- when I heard about the grandmother -- I reached out to one of Manti's best friends and teammates' mom...in Hawaii. And I said I understand Manti's grandma passed. Can you confirm that and can you give me her name so that I can put that in the story? ... Then I emailed Manti's father and I said I understand there's a friend or a girlfriend. I was trying to get to the bottom of it that day. And I said, 'Can you confirm that this person passed and kind of help me understand who this was to Manti?' And he did confirm it. And so these were two sources that I believed in, that I had not been dealing with for the first time. I think there's people that maybe expected me and some other people in the media to go [dig] up a corpse. I did try to, at some point, google her obituary and couldn't find it. And yet I've done that with friends' parents in the past and I've not been able to find theirs either. So I figured it was operator error on my part. I think, Dan, that when you're in our business that you learn to trust people and Manti Te'o was a guy I'd interviewed dozens of times, spent time with at the homeless center, saw him three-dimensionally outside of football. And he's a guy that I trusted, and I guess to a certain extent still do trust. Until I get the final picture I still do trust him. And maybe I'm the naive one in this picture but you have to rely on sources."
The South Bend Tribune has been criticized for their faith and trust in Te'o, going with "Cruel Hoax" as the headline the morning after the Deadspin report. Perhaps it's to be expected from Notre Dame's hometown paper. But Hansen and the South Bend Tribune are far from alone in this case. Everyone trusted Te'o and was naive to the hoax unfolding before their eyes. As cynical as it sounds, maybe it was that trust and naiveity that was the media's stumbling block all along.
[H/T Sports Radio Interviews]
Hansen's editor needs to check out Hansen's notes for the Kekua story and make sure Hansen didn't embellish, as is implied in the Te'o interview.
this is just like the summer of '98. glorified ball boy turned slugger sammy sosa and paul bunyan-esque mark mcgwire were crushing homers. the signs were there. yet no one wanted to be the one to denigrate the feel good story of the year. and the one who did was lambasted by his peers for doing so. and now they are doing it again. it is blatantly obvious teo was in on the hoax. yet no reputatable writer is willing to call him a liar, fearing a blacklash from ND.
Looks like Teo called out Hansen
JEREMY SCHAAP: It's not the same prior to the 16th. There are a couple of things, Manti, just, I want to ask you, because people said, all right, here are things that don't make sense. And I want to ask you myself. I want to hear it from your mouth. There is a story that's in the South Bend Tribune, which was one of the most comprehensive accounts of your relationship with Lennay Kekua. In it, it describes how you guys physically touched each other and how there was this in-person meeting. Where did that come from?
MANTI TE'O: I think it's all to make the story better.
JEREMY SCHAAP: You didn't tell Eric Hanson that you had touched her hand at some meeting?
MANTI TE'O: No. I'd never told anybody that I've touched her hand.
"maybe it was that trust and naiveity that was the media's stumbling block all along."
It's the pack mentality. No one in the corporate media wanted to be out on a limb calling Te'o's integrity into question. Had they tried, there is a decent chance their editors would have shot them down anyway. That's why it had to fall to a unconventional source like Deadspin to do it.
There is so much hindsite here. If you know somebody, relativley well, why would you not beleive them if they told you someone close to them has died? How far does/should a reporter go to get confirmation of something like this for a story? It's just not something you would expect someone to lie about. I don't see how people can blame the media for not see this as a hoax. It was an interesting (to some) story, so they ran with it. I'm sure they will be more dilegent in the future.