Side Lines We were all duped by this one

Fans, media, Irish duped. Was Manti, too?
Posted on Jan. 17, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Jan. 17, 2013 at 11:14 a.m.

Congratulations, Manti.

You've ascended to the top of the viral universe and become the latest, and for now, most infamous, example of how today's brand of journalism is a landmine waiting to be stepped upon.

While the media — and the college football world — swooned, drooled and fell head-over-heels in love with Manti Te'o and his well-documented personal tragedies and triumphs, we all let our guard down in an all-too-common way.

The saga weaved a grandmother and girlfriend dying within days apart in September, a magical undefeated run to the BCS national championship game, a celebrated public push for the Heisman Trophy. Manti spoke passionately and clearly. We became wrapped into it, we embraced it and we reported it.

Guilty as charged. Stand in line. Take a number.

Te'os pain and grief, Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick says, was real. As we've all found out, everything was “real” except for the story itself.

Notre Dame haters are loving every moment of this.

In the last 10 days, the Irish have — A) Been blown out in the national title game ... B) Had head coach Brian Kelly dabble with an unpopular NFL interview and, C) Seen its most-ballyhooed player since Rocket Ismail cut off at the knees by allegations that a “relationship'' with a woman named Lennay Kekua was a farce.

But those who want to throw Deadspin, ESPN, Sports Illustrated or newspapers under the bus? Bring it. You'll lose that argument as quickly as Alabama dismantled the Irish last week.

The internet — Twitter, blogs, Facebook, websites — opened the door for journalists to feed the world news quickly and easily.

The world has now patterned its hunger to keep up with our ability to provide it — a 24/7 all-you-can-eat news buffet.

We serve, you eat. The more you consume, the more we provide.

So, with the swirl of feel-good stories involving the Irish, Manti Te'o emerged as the face of the university, beloved by one and all.

The media loved him, too. We didn't create Manti Te'o.

Manti Te'o, literally and figuratively, crafted his own story.

We were duped much like Manti Te'o says he was. At the time, there was no fathomable reason to ask probing questions.

It took more than four months before an anonymous source decided to ship an email to Deadspin. It took less than a week for Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey, the co-authors of Wednesday's blockbuster piece of investigative journalism, to find the incredible list of inconsistencies and blow Crimson Tide-like holes in Te'o's story.

In an interview with Mallary Tenore of the Poynter Institute, Burke addressed some of the reporting vacuum issues.

“You can learn a lot about what happened by looking at the contradictions between other journalists' stories,” Burke said. “That was what really tipped us off, after all, that something was weird here. Major news organizations disagreed on the date of a person's death by up to four days.”

Burke also said he was “shocked” and “saddened” by the reality of the story — that the Te'o fairy tale was “Perhaps a reflection on the diminished role investigative journalism plays anymore.”

It's unfortunate. It's humbling.

It's dirty in a way. It's also a reality.

A young man's story, the love of his life — a family saga worthy of a feature film — was taken at face value. Hook, line and sinker.

An avalanche of questions are awaiting answers, none of which seemed necessary in September.

Our job now? Asking ourselves how much we are willing to believe now?

Contact Bill Beck at bbeck@etruth.com and on Twitter @eTruthSports.


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