Manti Te'o scandal: What happened to journalism?

I'm embarrassed.

Not for Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o, who was either royally duped or actively perpetrated a bodacious fraud upon the public.

Rather, I'm embarrassed for my "industry." My vocation. Yes, dare I go high and mighty, my craft.

I'm humiliated the mainstream media was so hungry for Te'o's fable of love and loss that, in the walk-up to the BCS national title game, proof of Lennay Kekua's fictitiousness was not discovered and apparently was barely researched.

Not until the wild, wild west sports website Deadspin.com posted its exhaustive investigative story Wednesday did we learn that Kekua neither lived nor died - of leukemia or anything else.

This escapade affirms Te'o is one of the most stupendously gullible men who ever lived. Or else it affirms he was a craven publicity seeker, a stone-cold liar out to polish his Heisman candidacy. He now admits his relationship with Kekua was exclusively online, although in an ESPN interview he implied he'd met Kekua.


In any scenario, it's as equally dismal a day for the reputation of journalism - not just sports journalism. Amid the heart-wrenching story-telling, we lacked the curiosity and initiative to learn even a little bit about a central protagonist in Te'o's life.

Not even slim information surfaced from an easily accessible source, an obituary, about Lennay Kekua or her surviving family. Of course, that's because we are only finding out now that there is no obit or family - the latest gaping hole through which journalism has fallen.

"What I really find most alarming is there were so many red flags along the way, and the media just dropped the ball so often," said Joseph Cosco, an associate professor of English and journalism teacher at Old Dominion.

A former reporter, including at The Virginian-Pilot, Cosco said the oversight is especially stunning considering how much conflicting information about Kekua had circulated, including even the date of her manufactured death.

"This is some of the top media outlets in the country," Cosco said. "You would think somebody like the (New York) Times, or the AP or Sports Illustrated would try to sort that out, and in sorting it out probably would have uncovered it.

"How can you have so many media working the story and not trip over some sign that whoa, something's wrong here?"

The obvious answer: We didn't "work" the story. Rather, we went along with it, for whatever reasons - its poignancy, Te'o's engaging personality, his profile as a Heisman candidate, even the Kekua family's alleged request for privacy, issued to ESPN through Te'o.

"The assignment I hated worst when I was a reporter was approaching families who'd suffered some sort of tragedy," Cosco said. "I hated doing it, but felt I needed to do it.

"If the family itself said, 'We don't want to talk,' I'd appreciate that and I wouldn't bother them. But to have (Te'o) say the woman's family didn't want to talk and backing off, I have a little bit of a problem with that."

You might have heard mainstream media also has a problem of shrinking staffs and resources. No excuses, but it's plausible that perhaps fewer discerning eyes contributed to this humiliation. Then again, maybe it really was collective laziness.

One thing is certain; Cosco has his discussion topic for the next meeting of his weekly Sports Journalism course.

"The media didn't do the sorts of basic journalistic practices that we stress in Intro to Journalism courses," he said. "CBS ran a direct quote from (Kekua); well, where did that quote come from? The photos that ran of her? You need to know where these things are coming from."

It's embarrassing that we didn't know. It's worse if we didn't care.

Tom Robinson, 757-446-2518, tom.robinson@pilotonline.com

Posted to: Sports Tom Robinson

COMMENTS ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here; comments do not reflect the views of The Virginian-Pilot or its websites. Users must follow agreed-upon rules: Be civil, be clean, be on topic; don't attack private individuals, other users or classes of people. Read the full rules here.
- Comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the report violation link below it.

You're just NOW...

feeling 'embarrassed' for your industry? You are aware that you work for the Huffington Pilot, are you not? 'Embarrassment' is way to subtle of a word to describe them. But that said, this guy has a golden future within our present admin. If he is telling the truth that he was duped, the victimhood will serve him quite well, there's nothing like the emotional sans facts and truth that gets the usual suspects all atwitter. if he is lying, well, then he has a skill set that is most valued by this WH. Either way, given the dumbing down of this once great nation, his narrative will no doubt result in lots of dollars for himself. Isn't this what society rewards these days? His draft status might take a hit, but he'll make up for the lost bucks!

Wait a minute ...

He's a good looking, manly, famous, and soon to be rich football player and claims he had an "on line" only (or mostly) girl friend for the last three years? Wait a minute. Do you buy that? I don't. It is an implausible story and something the news mavens should have dismantled early on. What is going on here? Resume polishing so to speak, a little disinformation by a guy who may not be so manly after all, ratings hype, or something we haven't even thought of yet? Are there any insurance policies involved? Just kidding; I think. And what about the adults at Notre Dame? Are there any or are they all part of the pseudo reality tv world we all seem to be living in. I giving up college football and going back to something I can believe in: WWF.

Won't make any difference in his draft status.

Contrary to what many of them preach, NFL teams don't give a hoot about character when it comes to drafting, trading for, or paying players.

And this incident is small potatoes compared to the drugs, burglaries, assaults, domestic abuse, etc. that are overlooked each year at draft time.

If he can run, pass, block, tackle, etc., he's going to be drafted and paid.

Evidence: Ray Lewis, Michael Vick, Ricky Williams, Plaxico Burress, Pac-Man Jones, et. al.

Sounds like

A replay of the Obama presidency. Everybody "feels good" about the story and nobody checks to see if it's real or is it just another politician doing what all politicians do - whoever tells the biggest lie and gets away with it wins!

You were onto something for a little bit. Tom.

Then you let your industry off the hook by blaming everything else. You blamed the romance of the story. You blamed the subject. You blamed fame. You blamed sympathy. But you failed to blame the sham of modern-day journalism. Journalism used be known as the Fourth Estate -- the bright light and watchful eye over power. Today, the profession attracts lazy, self-interested, undereducated sensationalists who get rewarded for page hits instead of accuracy. The fact this story was broke by an unreliable and reckless website called Deadspin is all the more proof. Now a poor kid who appears to have been duped into an online romance has to try and salvage his reputation from the very jackals who could have initially uncovered the truth.


I don't nitpick errors like this in users' comments, but when it's your profession...Te'o didn't infer that he met Kekua - he may have implied it, but the viewers/listeners were the ones doing the inferring.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Please note: Threaded comments work best if you view the oldest comments first.

Daily Deal |  | Promote your business