Deadspin's exhaustively reported story Wednesday on Manti Te'o's fake, dead girlfriend reveals how the media helped spread falsehoods that, if checked out, would have disrupted a feel good story.
Te'o's story was the type sportswriters -- or really, journalists in general -- flock toward. Here was a talented young man, who in the face of deep personal loss, triumphed on the field. The problem was that there's no such person as Lennay Kekua, the nonexistent girlfriend whose life and death was referenced by several news organizations.
As Te'o's celebrity swelled, so did the pile of inspirational stories about his triumph over loss. Each ensuing story seemed to add yet another wrinkle to the narrative, and details ran athwart one another."
Deadspin mentions a number of outlets which reported details of Te'o and Kekua's fake relationship, and her fake death, over the past few years, including the South Bend Tribune, ESPN, Fox Sports, Boston Globe, New York Post, Associated Press, and CBS. (SBNation lists more, including themselves).
It's understandable that journalists may not have double-checked Te'o's account of how, say, he supposedly met Kekau after a football game. But it's amazing that news outlets were so quick to cover a woman's death without any verification -- an obituary, local report from the funeral, or comment from the family.
"CBS This Morning" ran photos purportedly of Kekau in a glowing profile about how Te'o endured on the field despite "almost unimaginable anguish." The photos were taken from another woman's Facebook account.
The Deadspin investigation may be remembered as much as an indictment of the media's herd mentality than for its revelations about the hoax itself.
UPDATE: ESPN senior columnist Gene Wojciechowski said Wednesday night on SportsCenter that he couldn't find an obituary or car accident report for Kekau when reporting a profile of Te'o. However, Wojciechowski backed off on that angle when Te'o asked him to.