I remember waking up on a Sunday morning in February and tuning onto a local Bay Area news program to catch disgraced Heisman Trophy contender, Manti Te’o saying he can’t wait to put the dead girlfriend hoax behind him.
When the first hoaxy Manti Te’o headline hit the mainstream, opportunist sports reporters and the national media ate it up like the ravenous scandal-hungry zombies they are, and regurgitated their “heartbroken” uninformed take on the tragic story of Notre Dame’s latest football star as some sort of fact-based news.
ESPN.com took the bait and summarized the story like so:
You’ve likely heard the heartbreaking story by now…in the span of six hours, Te’o learned that his maternal grandmother, as well as his longtime girlfriend, had died. His grandmother, Annette Santiago, passed away after an extended illness. And his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, succumbed to leukemia.
Te’o said “After the loss of two women who I really love…I realized that life is just all about experiences that you have with the people you love.”
The support from teammates, fellow Notre Dame students, faculty and staff, Notre Dame alums, opposing players, other coaches and perfect strangers has been overwhelming. He has received hundreds of handwritten letters, prayer cards and sympathy cards from all around the country.
A rising football star says he “really loved” this girl, so she must be real and it must be true, right? Similar narratives were plastered on every TV, newspaper, website, and tabloid out there. So much faux-emotion, so many pseudo-details, and so many quasi-revelations. Yet the uninformed public remained that way, and sports fans everywhere were jerked around by both sports stars and sports reporting.
I’m not here sitting in the UpperReserved to feign outrage over being conned by a ridiculous incoherent hoax whose wild details are still developing as I write this. And I’m not here to connect the dots and speculate whether or not the hoax was devised to hide a gay bromance with purported hoaxer Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Nor am I hear to talk about my suspicions that Manti Te’o was using the hoax to hide his homosexuality from the staunch Catholic Notre Dame officials who could ban him from a promising college football career. Nope…not even gonna mention it.
I’m here to briefly rant about how pathetic it is that the mainstream sports media did nothing to actually confirm the existence of the imagined dead girlfriend. After all, investigative reporting has no place in the mainstream media let alone the sports genre, right?
SBNation.com, an exceptional sports reporting source, recently posted an article whose title says it all: The List: People who never looked up Lennay Kekua.
The article is short and to the point. It lists more than 20 major news and sports sources that didn’t bother to do a little fact-checking to confirm that Lennay was a real person. Instead, these media outlets parroted everything they heard and lazily hit the PRINT button. Among the names are some of the biggest authorities in sports, mainstream news, and syndication, including:
The Chicago Tribune
The Associated Press
The Los Angeles Times
How’s that make you feel, sports fans?
SBNation was even so refreshingly bold as to self-incriminate themselves as one of the sources that failed to fact-check…an admission that hints of redemption. Quite the contrast, the New York Times tried to blame the Internet and online dating for the fake dead girlfriend without mention of their own journalistic neglect.
And how is it possible that the tear-jerking manly-sounding emotional voicemails from the dead girlfriend didn’t spark even a photon of curiosity in the minds of people whose professional responsibility is to present the facts?
It took a staggering five months for the mainstream media to finally figure it all out. Instead of fessing-up with a litany of humble corrections, the media tried to hide their well-deserved embarrassment by hurling self-serving snooty reactions like Katie Couric’s supremely ironic comment “you are the most naive person…” she sharply pointed at Te’o during their interview, referring to his blind belief in a girlfriend that didn’t exist.
Wait a sec Katie…didn’t you folks also believe in a girlfriend that didn’t exist?
Ultimately, Manti Te’o admitted to lying about the fake girlfriend, and from there the dirty snowball of obvious truth rolled downhill, picking up one belated factoid after another as it bowled it’s way into breaking news reports with headlines that would make any supermarket check stand tabloid proud.
It got to the point where no one even cared if Phil McGraw’s producers checked Ronaiah Tuiasosopo’s story about being the voice of the girl on the phone, that he was in love with Manti, that he was molested, or if he really was the person behind everything. But that’s what it came down to. Mainstream sports news, and all news for that matter got dumbed down to the level of “Katie” and “Dr. Phil”.
So today, we all know the hoax was just that. A girlfriend is not dead. But investigative reporting is.
The Manti Te’o story is a perfect example of what’s wrong with today’s corporate-owned news and sports media. Profit motives endlessly chase ratings, views, likes, and shares with dramatic scandals, sensationalized blather, and tabloid fodder that result in the atrophy of truth.
The comedic brilliance of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show shone quite brightly recently when “investigative news reporter” John Oliver interviewed a media analyst regarding CNN’s recent decision to lay off its entire staff of investigative news reporters. The reason: the network thinks investigative reporting is not a profit center and too costly. Instead they’re going with less expensive talking heads and pundit opinion shows. Gack.
Investigative reporting is deemed too costly when compared to more profitable content created by cheap reactionary reporting. Who cares if a 5-minute investigation would have discovered the dead girlfriend a fake if it cuts into the sanctified goal of profitability? Certainly not the corporations that we depend on to bring us the news and information we need.
Sadly, as we approach the NFL Draft, the only person whose profitability has suffered is Te’o. After all the drama, a subpar combine and an average pro day, he’s likely to be drafted at the bottom of the 1st round. He may even fall to the 2nd round. Either way, he’s lost the potential to receive a lot of guaranteed money and almost all of his marketability. Maybe all the news outlets that failed to do their jobs and still profited from the increased viewership and web traffic generated by Te’o should thank him financially?