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Te’o and the Death of a Responsible Press

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

My son called me anxious to talk about the hot story of the day. I tell him it had not hit my screen. When it does I tell him I am clueless as to what he is talking about. He chides me for missing a huge story of how Manti Te’o, the linebacker for Notre Dame, lost his grandmother and girlfriend on the same day, but now the story regarding the death of the girlfriend is a hoax. I remind number one son that I am a “between-the-lines” guy when it comes to sports and that the story ran concurrent with the death of an American ambassador in Benghazi. But now I begin to dig in and we all need to be concerned.


With a pair of fresh eyes I research the details. In a nutshell (if you don’t know by now) Manti Te’o became the latest human interest story in sports last September. He tells the press that his grandmother died on September 11, 2012, but caps it off with the death of his 22-year-old girlfriend who had previously come close to dying in an auto accident, but now actually dies from complications of leukemia. Despite his overwhelming grief, he plays the scheduled game against Michigan State which consequently puts Notre Dame on the road to an undefeated season and the national championship game with Te’o sitting at the Heisman ceremony in New York as one of the three finalists. In the interim he was interviewed by numerous press sources about his relationship as the press ate up this heartbreaking story.

On January 16th a news source of which I previously had no knowledge, Deadspin, breaks the story that there never was a girlfriend much less a tragic death. Apparently Te’o told the people at Notre Dame of this December 26th, but they conveniently held off reporting the matter until after the Big Game. Now the media is scrambling to find the truth while Te’o and Notre Dame are stating Te’o was the victim of this hoax.

While reviewing the press stories, one must wonder what has happened to journalism in this country. Obviously, as serious as they try to be, few view sports reporters and news reporters as having the same level of gravitas. The problem is plenty of mainstream news media covered this story. Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN stated he could not find an obituary or any other notice about the death of the girlfriend. He asked and was told (and bought) the story that the family wanted to keep the death private - apparently very private. In fact, there was no record of it.


No one asked simple questions. Why was the football hero having a relationship over the internet when typically there are local girls swooning over him? Why did he not attend the funeral of the girl about whom he went on national TV and poured out his heart? The entire story was illogical from the start, but our press has become note takers instead of protectors of the truth.

In January, 1993, California State Senator Sheila Kuehl stood in front of the Rose Bowl prior to the Super Bowl soon to play there and declared that Super Bowl Sunday was the single biggest day for male-on-female violence in the country. The story was carried throughout the media without anyone questioning the facts. A couple of weeks later the Washington Post debunks the statement by Kuehl -- with only one other major news source covering the debunking. And the story lives on through the internet.

Sandra Fluke goes in front of a Congressional committee and tells of how poor Georgetown University law students (assuming there is such a thing) must pay $3,000 annually for contraceptives. She becomes a folk hero after Rush Limbaugh berates her, but only one reporter actually questioned this preposterous claim. The reporter then goes to a Target pharmacy within three miles of the campus and acquires a month of birth control pills for $9, or $108 per year. Still the fraudulent Fluke speaks at the Democratic National Convention and the press does not ask her whether she is simply stupid or just a liar.


The cases are too numerous to list of how our press has given up doing their job. Certainly there have been major changes to newspapers and television journalism in the past 20 years. Papers have downsized or gone out of business and TV news has shrunk some of its budgets or just become pop culture venues. Still there is a roomful of reporters when the President holds a new conference yet none of them seem to be able to muster a follow-up question to whatever is asserted by Mr. Obama. Nancy Pelosi and/or Harry Reid stand in front of a microphone and spew whatever they want and the press just takes notes and regurgitates without even applying the logic of a six-year-old to whatever is being fed to them. When the premier investigative journalistic television show (60 Minutes) has the President and his Secretary of State on and treat them as if it is Ellen DeGeneres interviewing Bradley Cooper, we are all in trouble.

This is why Patrick Caddell, a Democratic pollster, went on a rant about how irresponsible the press had been about Benghazi. He not only called it unprofessional, but said it was dangerous. When an independent press does not challenge the stories fed it with a healthy skepticism, the first amendment and the very foundations of our society are under siege.

No wonder Manti Te’o was able to foist this fraud upon the American people in a deceitful act of self-promotion. No one questioned this contrived story. Now if he had said he was a Republican …..


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