When Deadspin reporters Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey got an anonymous e-mail saying there was “something fishy” about the Manti Te’O story, they did what any responsible, well-trained journalist would do: they investigated. They made phone calls and Googled. They fact-checked. They made more phone calls and did more fact-checking. And they concluded that the story of Lennay Kekua was not only a hoax on Te’O - it was a hoax on the world of sports journalism. Kekua had never existed; she had never gone to Stanford, never met Manti Te’O, never had leukemia or died in a car crash.
How did media outlets from Indiana’s South Bend Tribune to CBS, ESPN and the Associated Press take this bizarre fabrication, based largely on Tweets, hearsay and other writers’ stories, and run the full nine yards with it? Was everyone so in love with the story of this heartbroken hero, leading the Fighting Irish to victory against Michigan State, that they let ethics slip through the cracks? Do sportswriters get a pass on due diligence for the sake of a feel-good story?
Kelly McBride, Senior Faculty, Ethics, Reporting and Writing, the Poynter Institute