Which is worse, making up a girlfriend, or, for example, intimidating a woman who accused Notre Dame football players of sexual assault into committing suicide? Because that also actually happened this season.
Yesterday I was stuck in my car from about 3:30 in the afternoon to 7:30 at night. Thanks to a surprise snow storm — and the fact that many of us Southerners can’t drive in the stuff — what should have been a 30-minute drive home turned into a four-hour nightmare. Trust me, I’ll never watch “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” the same way again.
While trapped in my car and creeping along slower than your average snail, I went up and down my Sirius/XM dial (free plug). ESPN radio. CNN radio. FOX news radio. On all of those stations, the Manti Te’o story popped up. Then it popped up again. And again. Even more than the already overblown Lance Armstrong story. Much more than any actual news.
A quick Google search this morning provides these Te’o reports:
Seriously, people, what the Hell?
The story of Te’o's made-up girlfriend has become our latest national obsession. Apparently no pretty blonde woman has disappeared this week. No public figure has had an affair. The press has time to fill and a human-interest-story-gone-weird has become the perfect filler.
Too bad it’s the press — and, yes, this writer is a member of the press, too — that deserves the scorn over this one. Sure Te’o and Notre Dame should have come clean sooner, but was the player running for office? Did he divulge America’s secret nuke codes to the North Koreans? Apparently he lied about having a girlfriend. At best he was duped by a hoaxer and didn’t fess up quickly. At worst he played the press for sympathy and publicity. Newsflash: He ain’t the first.
Would you rather a college athlete make up a story about a girlfriend or beat the devil out of kid at a frat party? When it comes to the long list of crimes and misdemeanors committed by college students, lying to the media about a girlfriend should rank somewhere between skipping class and stealing another school’s mascot. Who really cares? Who did Te’o hurt?
If not for the press seeking/searching/praying for a human interest story — rather than, ya know, actual news — the story of Te’o's girlfriend would have never made national headlines. Much, much worse, if any of the journalists who sprained their fingers banging out stories on Te’o's tragedy had first tried to confirm the validity of Te’o's tale we might not be looking up the meaning of the word “catfished” today.
Twenty-five years ago before the internet and talk radio and social media exploded, reporters would have actually made a phone call or two to see if Te’o's story was rooted in actual facts. Now, struggling to fill a 24-hour “news” cycle with any kind of content at all, the people Te’o talked to about his fake girlfriend just swallowed what he spoon-fed them and raced to tweet it out before anyone else.
Could part of the reason everyone in the media is picking up on this story be that we in the media got played? Whether Te’o was duped or not is up for debate. There is no such debate regarding the media in this mess. We were definitely duped. The rush to fill the vast news void led some of us to run with a story without ever doing any fact-checking. Instead, there was just typing. Tweeting. Reporter stand-ups from in front of Notre Dame’s golden dome.
The public and press can chide Te’o if they like, but he’ll have to explain his actions to every team in the NFL and that should be punishment enough. Notre Dame officials deserve a scolding for allowing a story they knew to be false to continue on through the BCS title game. But we in the media deserve even more of the blame.
Apparently a 21-year-old young man lied. We fell for it and ran with it without doing any research. People can be expected to lie. The press should be expected to do some fact-checking on a story that would have been so easy to fact-check.
As for the news consumer, well, I can’t grasp why anyone really cares about this story. It should be a blurb. A backpage story. “Player Part of Girlfriend Hoax.” Instead of reading and watching coverage of important issues — the economy, the environment, the gun debate — America has been hooked by a college linebacker’s made-up girlfriend. I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing, but then again I didn’t lose any sleep over Tiger Woods’ affair and I didn’t watch any of the Casey Anthony trial.
Still, you’ll find your daily fill of Te’o links in today’s headlines. You want it, you got it. Here’s just hoping that those folks who wrote it got it right. This time.