CBS News. Sports Illustrated. The New York Times. ESPN. The New York Post. The Los Angeles Times.
All of them – and many, many more media outlets – fooled by a terrible and cruel hoax that could have been discovered with a few phone calls or a search on Google.
If this is the state of journalism at some of the biggest and best media outlets in the United States then journalism is in far greater danger than we ever could have imagined.
Here’s the lowdown as discovered by the blog Deadspin: Manti Te’o, a star football player at Notre Dame and a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, announced to the world that he was playing his season in honor of his girlfriend, who died of leukemia several months ago. Her disease was discovered by doctors after she was injured in a car accident.
Except, there is no girlfriend. She’s made up. A fabrication that doesn’t exist.
But Manti Te’o’s story of struggling to overcome her death during his amazing season, the story of his anguished midnight talks with her as she lay on her death-bed, the story of sending her two white roses to her funeral, and her last words of “I love you” to him became the feature fodder for hundreds, if not thousands, of stories in the mainstream press, including the heavy-hitters mentioned at the top of this post.
A hoax that included made-up Twitter accounts and pictures stolen from another woman’s Facebook page. A story that now lies in tatters because of the hard work done by Deadspin to reveal the truth.
A story that was too good to be true because it wasn’t true. Unfortunately, no one checked. A hoax with a lot of holes in it and one that could have easily been discovered by journalists doing their jobs. But it appears as if none of these media outlets ever checked the veracity of Manti Te’o’s story. Not ESPN or the New York Times. No one.
So much for the old journalism axiom: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
This is a major black-eye for journalism. An embarrassment.
Expect a lot of hand-wringing by the mainstream media in the next few days. Lots of excuses. Lots of finger-pointing. And expect to see a tidal wave crash over Manti Te’o.
UPDATE: Notre Dame and Te’o are claiming that he was the victim of a cruel hoax. Not sure that can possibly pass the sniff test. At best Te’o is guilty of lying about the depth and details of the relationship.
UPDATE #2: The Atlantic has a good piece on how the mainstream media are guilty in this story. It says in part: “This isn’t 1913, it’s 2013. How exactly does every major sports media organization in the United States re-package a story that turns out to be wholly false? Budgets are stretched, but do major magazines not even fact-check their cover stories? Were all the top sportswriters in the country so enamored with this tale of woe that they didn’t think to, you know, do their jobs?” See the link below.
Deadspin’s exclusive on Manti Te’o’ made-up girlfriend
Poyner story “If Your Mother Says She Loves You”
Atlantic story on media and Te’o story