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January 17, 2013

Media column: News, views on Te'o story; Sileo, Erin Andrews Twitter feud

Media notes on the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax:

### Even if you believe Te’o’s story – and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick made a strong case - this raises red flags about any suggestions that Te’o was blameless:

Swarbrick said Te’o got a call from one of the alleged perpetrators on Dec. 6 – a woman, whom he believed was his girlfriend, telling him that she was, in fact, not dead.

And yet, on Dec. 8, Te’o told reporters at the Heisman Trophy ceremony: “I lost both my grandparents and my girlfriend to cancer.”

This doesn't prove Te’o was in on the hoax or that he wasn’t a victim, but it does suggest a desire to cover it up.

### Numerous media outlets cited detailed background information about the girlfriend (Lennay Kekua), such as her alleged car accident, the first time they met, their frequent phone calls.

So where did all this information come from? Turns out, some of it was unattributed in newspaper stories, instead merely stated as fact.

But much of the details came from Te'o himself in an Oct. 1 Sports Illustrated cover story. SI's Pete Thamel, who wrote the story, recounted on SI. com on Thursday how Te'o gave "staggering" detail about Kekua.

Among those details: He said they met four years ago through a cousin; that they started dating Oct. 15, 2011, that she graduated from Stanford, had a passion to work with children, got hit by a drunk driver and then discovered she had leukemia while recovering. Ta'o also said he had to calm her brother after Kekua died. 

"She was in a coma" after the car accident, Te'o told Thamel. "We lost her, really twice." He said on Friday nights, Kekua's brother or sister would typically read to Te'o a letter than Kekua wrote to him.

Meanwhile, Te’o’s father was quoted in the South Bend Tribune saying they Te'o and Kekua met at a Notre Dame-Stanford game and spent some time together during the summer in Hawaii. And Te'o's father said he (the father) received a condolence text from her after his mother died.

### Thamel told Dan Patrick on Thursday that while writing the story, he noticed “small red flags” about the girlfriend, including the fact he found no obituary or death notice for her, nor any evidence of her existence in an Internet search.

But he told Patrick he went ahead with the girlfriend-dying angle because “you were able to write around it.”

In his SI.com piece Thursday, Thamel noted that he called Stanford to check when Kekua graduated, but Stanford couldn't find a record of her. Thamel concluded she didn't graduate, so he took the Stanford reference out of his SI.com profile.

Thamel said he "never specifically said he'd met her in person and I didn't ask. Why would you ask someone if he'd actually met his girlfriend who recently died?"

### ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski, who also wrote extensively on Te’o, wrote Thursday: “I sat across from Te’o in the fall and listened to him tell his story of heartbreak…. If he was lying, it a performance for the ages. And if he wasn’t, then clearly he believed with all his heart that both his beloved grandmother and girlfriend had died within six hours of one another.”

Wojciechowksi previously asked to talk to the girlfriend’s family, but Te’o asked him to respect her privacy. Hmmm.

### Besides breaking the story, Deadspin.com also pieced together a fascinating list of media errors or inconsistencies in reporting, including AP noting the non-existent girlfriend’s funeral took place in Carson City (which isn’t a city; it’s Carson, Cal.) and the Palm Beach Post noting it took place in Hawaii. Ta'o told Thamel that it took place in California.

### If Te’o proves to be an innocent victim, then Deadspin should regret including a line from a Te’o friend saying he was “80 percent sure” Te’o was in on it. If the friend didn't have evidence, Deadspin shouldn’t have used that quote.

### ESPN was hopeful Te’o would do an interview with Jeremy Schaap on Thursday --- Yahoo's Pat Forde prematurely tweeted that it was set – but it never materialized.

ESPN wasn’t told it’s out of the running for a Te’o sit-down, but the network wouldn’t be surprised if Te’o ends up on NBC, which owns rights to Notre Dame home games. Maybe a Dateline special?

### ESPN’s reporting on the story Thursday included Bob Holtzman relaying that a former teammate said “players knew the woman wasn’t really his girlfriend.” Meanwhile, ESPN vehemently denied The Big Lead’s suggestion that it knew of the hoax before the national championship game but decided not to report it.

### Among the zillion Te’o-related tweets: Marlins first baseman/social media king Logan Morrison: “I’m pretty sure if I was a 21-year-old star football player at Notre Dame, I wouldn’t be dating someone online. I’d also probably have eight kids.”… Jose Canseco: “I feel so bad for Te’o getting screwed by the Internet. Hug for Te’o. Hang in there.”

### And then there was this uncalled-for tweet from WQAM’s Dan Sileo: “Media’s funny on how the Te’o story was so NOT covered right by the media. Well, when bimbos like Erin Andrews are covering.”

Andrews responded with this tweet: “So funny, because I never worked a Notre Dame game. Not sure how I could have covered it. Blame it on someone else.”

Sileo, needing the last word, then told Andrews (and a male program director at the ESPN Radio affiliate in Melbourne) to “Make me dinner” and “Bake me a Cake.”



### The Atlantic Coast Conference has begun exploratory talks about beginning its own TV network. The Southeastern Conference and ESPN are expected to launch a joint network in the next year.

### Because UM is a private institution, it is under no obligation to release the notice of allegations it will receive from the NCAA. And UM continues to say it’s unsure how much information it will share with the public when it gets the letter. A statement is possible. The NCAA does not release the notice.

### Even as defending division champions, the Panthers weren’t given any games on NBC or NBC Sports Network. But NBC lead NHL analyst Ed Olycyk said he believes they are good enough “to go the next level.”

### ESPN’s Stuart Scott continues to anchor SportsCenter while battling cancer for a third time.