Thursday, January 17, 2013

Another Banner Day For the Media

If you want my take on this whole "Fake Dead Girlfriend" thing at Notre Dame, follow me on Twitter.  Here I want to talk about how multiple media outlets could fall for such a load of crap.

The list of reporters, magazines and TV networks that fell for Manti Te'o's "story" about a girlfriend who was in a car crash and died from leukemia is embarrassing.  Sports Illustrated, ESPN, CBS, NBC, multiple newspapers, fansites, and national talk show hosts all bought "made for TV movie" tale hook, line and sinker.  But how?  Why did nobody other than two guys on a rumor website ask "wait a minute, there is a lot of stuff that doesn't make sense here" and at least do a Google search about what Te'o was saying?

The answer is simple: it would have ruined a "great story".  My colleague Bob Burnell tells the story of a news director he had "back in the day" that told him "Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story".  It exemplifies our occasional blindness to facts that might contradict the "narrative" that tells a better tale for the listener, viewer or reader.  "Athlete plays to honor his dead grandmother" is a "nice" headline "Player struggles with the loss of grandmother AND girlfriend hours apart"--that's the stuff Emmys, Pulitzers and Marconi Awards are made of!

What's disturbing is that nobody noticed the glaring discrepancies in Te'o's multiple telling of the stories.  He met this woman at Stanford University after their game in 2009--then they met once in Hawaii--then they never actually met face-to-face and had only chatted online and on the phone.  Nobody noticed these different stories when writing up their own piece?

Then there are the inconsistencies in the timeline of the woman's death.  Te'o told varying accounts of how she died hours before his grandmother--hours after his grandmother--the day after his grandmother and as many as FOUR DAYS after his grandmother.  And her family "insisted" that he make good on his promise to her to "never miss a game because of her"?  Nobody thought "why didn't they just have the funeral on a Monday or Tuesday?"

And no one Googled reports of the car crash that initially led to the "discovery" that the "girlfriend" "had leukemia"?  Nobody contacted Carson City Police (which doesn't exist--it's Carson, California) for an accident report?  And nobody tried to talk to a friend at Stanford to learn more about the girl?  And that includes THE STANFORD STUDENT NEWSPAPER who also did a story about this!!

Some of the reporters "duped" by this are now saying they had their suspicions about the story--but "didn't feel it proper to question it at the time".  Or would asking those questions and checking those facts have ruined the "fairy tale" quality of the story?   Nobody wins a Heisman Trophy by making up a dead girlfriend--if the cover story is blown before the voting is done.

And don't think Notre Dame itself is a victim here as well.  The Sports Information Department was a willing participant in this (and may have helped to cover up the facts--based on the claim that Te'o "found out about the hoax" on Decmeber 26th--but was still telling the story in interviews leading up to the national championship game on January 7th.).  The SID Director should be fired immediately for facilitating all of the interviews that allowed this story to gain legs and become part of the "Notre Dame Football Lore"

And while they are at it, the school can admit that George Gipp never told Knute Rockne to "Win one for the Gipper" and that the Irish players never put their jerseys on Dan Devine's desk in a threat to boycott if "Rudy" didn't get to play.  That is unless you'd rather just hear a "good story".

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