Slack: Media too focused on breaking Te’o news first; speed should not trump accuracy
Manti Te’o’s fake, dead-undead-then-dead-again girlfriend is far and away the most depressing story of 2013. Though it’s only January, I think it’ll be hard to top. Though we should not care about this story in the first place, it represents a greater flaw in our society, regardless of the incident.
I won’t recount all of the soul-crushingly moronic details of this story. No matter what actually happened, Te’o is either a gigantic doofus, or a conniving, manipulative ambition-hound – and both are pretty disappointing. It’s not the first time a professional athlete has deceived us – hint: rhymes with “Flance Blarmstrong.”
But it’s the media that takes home the “I’m Terrified Of Where We’re Going As A Culture” award on this one. Because wow, did they blow this? And wow, are they making it worse as they try to collectively make it better?
Eating up the beautiful, made-up saga of Te’o and Lennay Kekua’s relationship, the cancer of getting it first versus getting it right has grown. Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated magazine interviewed Te’o about the story a mere two hours before his deadline. Thamel was seemingly unperturbed by the utter lack of evidence that Kekua ever existed – no record of an accident, no records of her at Stanford University, nothing.
But no matter, right? It’s a great story and someone else might have gotten it sooner. Time is always short on the 24-hour news cycle.
Once the hoax – or conspiracy, or CIA cover-up, or whatever – came out,our fair fourth estate turned into a Marx Brothers sketch beyond imagination. Te’o got Jeremy Schaap and ESPN to agree to a private off-camera interview with an attorney present. Who else gets that? The president of the United States couldn’t negotiate those terms.
Schaap then relayed the discussion to viewers live on “SportsCenter,” like a go-between messenger in the middle of dying middle school romance.
The highlight of this grotesque exercise: a voice-cracking, David Schwimmer-esque moment where Schaap defended Te’o and said, “The way he explained it was very convincing.”
Schaap went on to praise Te’o for how calm and collected he seemed in the face of such adversity. Schaap also volunteered that he believed Te’o’s wild story, even though no one asked for his opinion.
I think I speak for the whole country when I say I am relieved Jeremy Schaap was not covering the Watergate break-in for The Washington Post in 1972.
Now, Te’o embarks on his public rehabilitation tour. His first on-camera interview will be with Katie Couric, known for asking tough questions – who could forget her intellectual jousting with the cagey Sarah Palin? One catch: Deadspin.com reported that Couric and Te’o happen to share the same publicist. It just gets better and better, right?
In the end, it is pretty sad we care so much about a linebacker’s made-up girlfriend when we really should care about how our journalists, the vaunted vanguard of the people’s truth, screwed up a basic human interest story in such monumental fashion.
We’ve seen many of these gaffes recently, and they probably won’t end here. But you have to ask yourself – if they can’t get this storycorrect, what are we to do with these Keystone Kops when it comes to the important stuff?
Kevin Slack is a senior television, radio and film major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @kevinhslack.
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