In the car yesterday, I was listening to Mike Francesa on sports radio WFAN in New York (also carried by YES on TV) and wondered how many in his audience support his claim that the media have no responsibility at all as enablers in the Manti T’eo imaginary dead girlfriend scandal. More importantly: How many in the media feel that way?
We’ve certainly heard that defense from some of those who swallowed, then promoted, his fiction. We haven’t heard from everyone so far because of the massive number of outlets that went along with it.
But the usual rationalization is: Hey, who could have imagined that anyone, especially such a very nice top college football star, would make up such a wild tale? And/or: We didn’t make it the focus of our pieces on him so why would you expect us to bother to research it? And/or: We’re just sports reporters and editors, do you really expect us to go Woodward and Bernstein?
It’s as if journalism fact-checking is a brand-new concept to them.
Now, the charge has been made that reporters did not bother to make a single phone call to find out if the girl really existed, really went to Stanford, really was in a car accident and really died of leukemia. This is not (quite) true. Read the first section of this online piece by Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated who wrote the big, puffy cover story on T’eo last fall, in which he reveals that indeed he did try to check out several key claims about the imaginary girlfriend’s background—and found several red flags—but then went ahead with his sob story anyway, merely deleting some things they couldn’t prove.
In other words, it sounded fishy, but what the hell, let’s go with it. Sort of like the George W. Bush and his gang re: invading Iraq. Or Judy Miller’s editors carrying her stories on the front-page.
Meanwhile, The New YorkTimes’s public editor Margaret Sullivan acted quickly to look at the paper’s coverage of college football star T’eo and the “hoax” that many in the press fell for, and get editors’ reaction.
Sullivan: “The Times was not among the most prominent offenders in taking at face value what turned out to be a hoax, as revealed by the website Deadspin.com on Wednesday. But Times reporters still wrote about the Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te’o’s girlfriend at least five times in recent months.”
Consider key editor Joe Sexton’s weak defense, in his reply to Sullivan, which is much in the same mode as some of the defense offered by others, such as it would be crazy to fact-check T’eo’s claims when the paper was just endorsing a story already out there.
Howard Kurtz hits media hard on this at The Daily Beast and in video below: