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.
- ABC News story on the case:
- Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel Gives His Version of the Story
No one in the news media should have more to say about this story than SI’s Pete Thamel, who wrote the cover story for SI back in October. (HT: Romenesko - And if you were wondering, Romenesko also gives us great Twitter Talk between Deadspin and Donald Trump…)
- Te’O spoke of “girlfriend” as if she existed after he supposedly learned of hoax
This story keeps getting worse and worse. (NPR’s The Two Way)
- Former Newsday reporter says blame for bad reporting lies with ownership
Diane Werts writes in letter to Romenesko that reporters are given too many other responsibilities to take the time to do the background checking accurate reporting requires.
- Media Circus: The Football Star and the Will to Believe
NPR’s media reporter David Folkenflik has a great story on how the media were insufficiently skeptical on this story in part because it was such a great story. (HT to Mark Memmott at NPR)
- Journalists should verify deaths even when there is no obit (but there’s usually an obit)
More from Steve Buttry on the journalists’ need to verify deaths. And, as he points out, there is usually an obit out there somewhere. (HT Carrie Brown-Smith at Univ. of Memphis)