If your mother says she loves you, check it out…

Updated 1/18/13

I was sitting in the dental chair yesterday afternoon, waiting for the dentist to come fix my chipped tooth when I came across a tweet pointing me to the Deadspin story about Manti Te’O’s fake/made up/fraudulent (choose your own word) dead girlfriend.

Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey, writing at the Deadspin sports blog, clearly present the story as an active deception by Te’O, and my first thought after reading it was – Wow, what was he thinking?

My second thought was – Wow, the reporter from Sports Illustrated who recently did the cover story on Manti Te’O has a lot of explaining to do.

I don’t want to take a thing away from Deadspin.  The reporters there did a fantastic job of digging into this big mess.  But come on, folks.  SI is owned by Time Warner.  It’s supposed to be the authoritative source for sports news. You have a story about a Heisman candidate’s girlfriend dying of cancer and you can’t be bothered to establish who she actually was?

Digital journalism guru Steve Buttry has a great blog post up today on how journalists could have avoided falling for this story through using an accuracy checklist and by linking back to original sources.

We hear a lot of complaints about how biased journalists are, but this story points out what I strongly believe is journalists’ biggest bias – the bias toward a great story.  The story of Te’O’s football success and the dual tragedies of his grandmother’s and girlfriend’s deaths was just too good to let alone.  The journalists covering this story wanted it to be true and so they weren’t motivated to check it out.

Overall, I find the Manti Te’O story mildly interesting, but I find the story of how it took in journalists from supposedly big-deal, credible news outlets horrifying.

There’s an old saw in journalism circles that I’ve heard attributed to the Associated Press. It says:

“If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

We need to have more of that going on.


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