But why single out SI? We are all to blame for not doing our jobs assiduously enough. ESPN, for airing the College Gameday interview with Gene Wojciechowski. Every reporter on the Notre Dame beat, for never questioning how come no single photo of Manti Te’o and his presumed deceased girlfriend together did not exist, for never pressing for a single anecdote about the time they spent in one another’s actual presence. Myself, for writing, at the behest of Notre Dame’s athletic department, an “Everything You Need To Know About Manti Te’o” story for its website in which I regurgitated the same falsehoods.
The background on my own involvement. In the last week of October, Notre Dame associate athletic director John Heisler phoned me and asked me to write the piece for UND.com. The idea was that writers who were interested in doing features on Te’o leading up to the Heisman Trophy would have a resource for combing through material, anecdotes, stats, etc. The result was this piece, Manti Teo: the Notre Dame Linebacker Unplugged.
I understood that this was not objective journalism, and as I am not presently employed in that field, I had no qualms with doing it (for the record, John never mentioned my fee for this project and I never asked; in fact, I still have yet to be paid. Hello, John?). I later asked, via email, if I might speak to Manti or any members of his family but Heisler never replied to that email. The deadline was roughly one week.
Obviously, the story of Lennay Kekula intrigued me and so I searched for other stories to find more vivid details. How did they meet? Where did she live? If she was not from Hawaii, how often did they see one another? Where was she buried? And how did Manti Te’o know, as the story that I had worked off reported (and I trust this writer implicitly, not to mention that he’s a damn good reporter), that her casket was due to be closed at exactly 9:01 a.m. That is a precise and meticulous –and bizarre — detail, just the type I’d want to investigate further.
But I never was able to speak to Manti. And never, neither on Google or Nexis, did I ever find corroborating information besides those original stories. And this is where I failed: I accepted those stories as truth. It never even occurred to me that this might be a hoax. And that is all on me.
Last Saturday Tim Burke of Deadspin emailed me about the 9:01 a.m anecdote and my antennae shot up. Burke did not tell me exactly what he was searching for –nor did he owe me that — but I relayed to him pretty much what I’ve just told you. After I emailed Burke, I Googled my Manti Te’o story, which I probably had not viewed since November.
Guess what? The anecdote that I had included about Lennay, the one in which Manti asks defensive coordinator Bob Diaco during the walk-through before the Sept. 22 Michigan game what time it is (“12:01″ eastern time) and realizes that it is the exact time that Lennay’s casket is being closed, that anecdote was no longer part of the piece. And this was last Saturday. Someone associated with Notre Dame had deleted it before Deadspin’s story broke.
Again, why did I fail to deduce that something was awry? Why did we all? Maybe we were all as gullible as Manti — that is, if you believe Manti Te’o. But who knows what to believe?