Te’o, Thamel and Deadspin: How the Web Outreported the Traditional Media

With the unraveling of one of the strangest sports stories of recent memory still leaving much to be explained, in the wake of Deadspin breaking the story that Notre Dame Fighting Irish All-American linebacker Manti Te’o’s inspirational girlfriend was, in fact, fake, it strikes a few questions on how something like this could go on for so long.

The circus surrounding this issue started just yesterday when Deadspin, an online sports blog that is part of the Gawker Media family, revealed that Te’o’s girlfriend, who passed away of leukemia just six hours after his grandmother had also passed away, has no record of ever existing. Despite being a graduate of Stanford, having been in a serious car accident that hospitalized her, and having been admitted to a (unnamed) California hospital for months for leukemia treatment, and ultimately passing away, Deadspin journalists’ Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey found no paper trail for Lennay Kekua having done any of these things. Or even being an actual person.

Photo by Flickr user JamesChicago. Published under Creative Commons.

Photo by Flickr user JamesChicago. Published under Creative Commons license.

While there has certainly been swirling tidbits of gossip and speculation as to why such a hoax was pulled off, let’s leave that alone and look at how such a story proliferated through the mainstream media for so long.

Remember, this wasn’t just some hoax that didn’t carry any weight outside of the Notre Dame community. No, the death of Kekua garnered national media attention, especially after Te’o spoke of her making him promise to continue playing no matter what happened to her. That same narrative of Te’o overcoming great amounts of grief (some of it real, as a result of his grandmother’s passing, keep in mind) followed him throughout the entire season, on his way to seven major collegiate football awards, and a Heisman nomination. There is no denying Te’o was a skilled player, yet you must still question whether that emotional aspect played into the minds of voters.

So, again, how did such a story receive so much coverage without this information of Kekua’s non-existence coming to light earlier? There are a few significant problems in the reporting of the story that can be looked at here.

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