Deadspinning: “Irresponsible journalists acting on small pieces of a story that they don’t yet fully understand who rush to condemn a person who was put through an emotional wringer over many months, assign him nefarious motives and pontificate about the University that rightly defended him.”
The victims in the Manti Te’o story were people who trusted “sports journalists” to do their jobs, which is to use their privileged positions to ferret out the truth, bring perspective to stories and highlight the knowns and unknowns so that readers and viewers, who don’t do this for a living, gain a greater understanding of the issues.
Instead, we witnessed real time information vomit followed by gossip, rumor mongering and completely unsupported accusations passing as journalism.
It starts with the Deadspin, which was quite unbelievably lauded by some for its reporting on the Manti hoax, when in fact they did a horrific and irresponsible investigative job, missed giant pieces of the story and started an internet fire storm that that could very well do long-term damage to a fine and upstanding man. Yes, they received attention and page views and that should make parent Gawker happy, but not only did they run with half a story (and congratulated themselves for doing so) , they ended that story by making sure they raised suspicion about Teo’s involvement, by including this line “A friend of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo told us he was “80 percent sure” that Manti Te’o was “in on it,” . That “friend” was apparently the guy on twitter who tipped them off to the story.
And this is how a story that should have read, “Star player traumatized in a Catfish scam” became “Star player likely in on story to concoct a fake girlfriend to gain notoriety for Heisman run”.
Here’s a Deadspin writer on “breaking the story.”
First, on “breaking a story”. Being “first with the worst” is not admirable in any way. What is admirable is to wait until you have a firm grasp of the meaning of the facts before “breaking the story.” If you don’t have a sound perspective on the story, then it’s your job as a journalist to tread very, very carefully instead of feeding wild speculation. Deadspin did Teo a grave injustice by writing as if the “story” was a hoax perpetrated on the public and then attempting to connect Teo to the fabrication of the story vs. what really happened, he was trapped into a weird relationship and when the fake girl faked her death it became news. The “story” was not a hoax, the girl was a hoax and that’s a crucial distinction.
But that was just the start. Soon media outlets, new and old, large and small began wildly speculating.
The Chicago Tribune is an interesting study. Even as standards editor Margaret Holt was apologizing for not getting the story straight back in September, her writers were busy doing something far worse, abusing their positions with unsubstantiated accusations. Steve Rosenbloom was the lead abuser:
Now playing in the banana republic of South Bend: Te’o and the Lying Irish Steve Rosenbloom “you have no choice but to believe that the sanctimonious hucksters in the banana republic of South Bend were exposed as frauds.If you didn’t know it before, you were an idiot. You ought to see it now: The wonks in charge are as unburdened by morality as every other athletic program. They will lie, if they have to cover up something that might hurt their chances of winning a football game. They lied in the Te’o case. They admitted it. And Irish wonks encouraged Te’o to continue the lie in advance of the game. Interim atheletic director Jack Swarbrick said so during his awful-looking press conference Wednesday evening. “We encouraged him to focus forward and focus on the game,’’ Swarbrick said.”
Besides the fact that Rosenbloom called Swarbrick an interim “atheletic” director, there’s the point that Notre Dame didn’t lie, Notre Dame didn’t encourage Manti to lie and in no way did the hoax influence the game. It wasn’t as if Notre Dame was going to suspend Manti for being duped. There was no reason for ND to rush forward with the story.
Tribune writer Teddy Greenstein on Mike and Mike used the Manti story to concoct this amazing theory about Notre Dame being a fraud:
“I expected them to play a really good game, I expected it to be a close one. Instead that team is completely exposed. And then you’ve got Brian Kelly shopping himself to the Eagles for six days and losing a recruit, so you get abused on that front and then you’ve got Manti. You start to wonder how much of this was a fraud?”
Okay, Teddy. Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun Times decided to share his ‘beliefs”:
“Which brings me to what I believe is the real reason Te’o — and apparently his father, at least — went along with this scheme: the Heisman Trophy.”
Of course, there was no evidence that Teo “went along with the scheme”, but Telander not only arrives at that conclusion, he’s also clear on the motive.
”Like a gust of wind, the Notre Dame myth/spin machine cleansed the polluted air. ”
Dave Zirin, of the Nation, made a wild leap from Teo being “catfished” to the tragic case of Lizzy Seeberg, the St. Mary’s student with a history of psychological problems who committed suicide after accusing a player of touching her breast. A charge authorities ultimately decided against pursuing because it was so flawed and the Seeburg’s account didn’t square with the truth.
“It says so much that Te’o’s bizarre soap opera has moved Swarbrick to openly weeping but he hasn’t spared one tear, let alone held one press conference, for Lizzy Seeberg, the young woman who took her own life after coming forward with allegations that a member of the team sexually assaulted her. Swarbrick’s press conference displayed that the problem at Notre Dame is not just football players without a compass; it’s the adults without a conscience. Their credo isn’t any kind of desire for truth or justice. Instead it seems to be little more than a constant effort to protect the Fighting Irish brand, no matter who gets hurt.”
Bill Plaschke of the Tribune owned Los Angeles Times had no problem using logic based on incomplete facts to impugn Te’o:
“Yet the surrounding facts make this deniability hard to believe. That this woman didn’t exist could have been hidden in an online relationship, but Te’o frequently presented it as more than that. There are numerous examples of Te’o talking about meeting the girl. His father has even been quoted about her visiting him. Nothing makes sense, other than the truly sad possibility that Te’o was involved in creating the girlfriend to enhance his story and help his Heisman chances.”
John Cherwa, also of the Los Angeles Times, added the institutional angle:
“Perhaps the saddest part of the Manti Te’o Internet fraud story is the total lack of leadership shown by the once hallowed institution of Notre Dame. While a forensic examination of Te’o’s statements would likely make it clear he was not telling nothing but the whole truth, the fact that the school allowed — and even encouraged — Te’o to not come clean on the hoax and focus on the BCS title game is beyond appalling. Don’t be persuaded by the near-teary press conference of Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick. He deserves a nomination for best supporting accomplice. Do you think that press conference would have been held if Deadspin.com had not made public these sordid details of deception?”
New York Magazine unbelievably questioned girlfriend protocol to create doubt:
“means it only took him about two months after what he believed to be the actual, tragic death of his girlfriend to start dating again. That seems like kind of a quick rebound, although we’re not totally clear on the protocol for mourning a girlfriend you never met.”
The Plain Dealer went with the “Heisman Narrative” approach, even tying it to Lance Armstrong:
Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o sought to prove that a great narrative is sometimes better than the truth: Now it appears you have to have a good story to get to the top of the heap, a story that just may turn out to be a spectacular lie.
Fox Sports’ Jason Whitlock, always intellectually out of control when it comes to Notre Dame, jumps right into the conspiracy theory without knowing, really, anything:
“Lying is easy when you’re living one. No institution is living a bigger lie than Notre Dame. The Golden Dome believes it can live up to its religious ideals while participating in the systematic financial exploitation of young people. Everyone associated with the lie of amateurism is all in with Manti Te’o”
Fox really went for the sleaze and had no problem assuming the worst:
Notre shame? Holes emerge in Manti Te’o ‘hoax’ story It remains unclear how Te’o could have been unaware of the truth about Kekua.
Even worse, Dr. Keith Ablow, a Fox medical reporter posited that Te’o suffers from a delusional disease. “Dr. Keith discusses Manti Te’o and ‘The Delusional Disease’”:
“Te’o insists he was duped by someone who wanted him to fall in love with an imposter, with a ghost created by today’s technology—a phenomenon known as “catfishing.” Yet, many inconsistencies in Te’o’s own story of the couple’s supposed romance raise the question of whether he was part of the scheme. If so, some theorize his motivation may have been to create a mythical, magical story to help propel him to the Heisman trophy. Either way, Te’o needs psychological help.
Paul Doyle, of the Hartford Courant, used the school angle:
The school peddled Manti Te’o’s story, benefiting from the heart-wrenching tale as the football program revived itself last fall. So when the hoax was revealed, Notre Dame immediately should have gone public to set the record straight. If we’re to believe the timeline of events, Te’o was still telling the story after notifying the school of the hoax in late December. If that is in fact the truth, Notre Dame and Te’o were knowingly propagating a lie. That makes Jack Swarbrick’s emotional press conference all the more bizarre.
Doyle seems to think that using the word “if” allows him to imply whatever he wants.
Amid all of the terrible reporting, the prize winner here is Jim Gray.
“There are an awful lot of holes in this story,” Gray began, “and everything indicates that, yes, Manti Te’o is a fraud. His ‘girlfriend’ was in a car accident and almost died and he didn’t visit her? Then she had leukemia and he didn’t visit her or go to the funeral? You can’t make this stuff up, but somebody just did. One teammate has come out and said that Te’o played up this entire story and they all knew this wasn’t his girlfriend.”
Not only were writers jumping to wild conclusions about Teo, but they then jumped to wild conclusions based on their wild conclusions.
The ex-head of CNN Sports, Bill MacPhail gave this advice, “Assumption is the mother of all f#$kups. Your job as a journalist is to challenge assumptions to make sure you have the right story and the story right.”
Just like Richard Jewell in ’96 and The Duke Lacrosse Scandal in ’06, no one had the right story, the story right nor did they seem to care.
Turns out the biggest hoax in this story was journalism itself.