The Sports Illustrated transcript release of Manti Te'o's full interview with Pete Thamel provided a window into how deep the Lennay Kekua was and just how many layers existed. While the truth is still in the shadows, several writers who interviewed Te'o and profiled the star linebacker are speaking out as to how they could miss the Kekua hoax.
With all the media angles in this story, it's perhaps the one most up for debate and discussion. How could dozens of outlets, dozens of writers, dozens of top professionals, miss this!?
In hindsight the ruse looks obvious. The way Te'o couldn't remember significant details. The way the story continuously changed. The fact that there was absolutely no record of Kekua anywhere. But it's also hard to understand in hindsight the level of trust these reporters had for Te'o.
One of those writers was Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune, who infamously wrote about Te'o and Kekua meeting in person at Stanford. In an interview wtih 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis, Hansen spoke about his full trust of Te'o and how the Kekua myth slipped through his fingers…
"I have not looked for anybody's death certificate in the 30 years I've been a sports writer. Maybe when I get through this and I get to the end of this I'm going to take a look at how I covered the story and see if I need to make changes in the way I went about doing things. What I did do, Dan, was I reached out — when I heard about the grandmother — I reached out to one of Manti's best friends and teammates' mom…in Hawaii. And I said I understand Manti's grandma passed. Can you confirm that and can you give me her name so that I can put that in the story? … Then I emailed Manti's father and I said I understand there's a friend or a girlfriend. I was trying to get to the bottom of it that day. And I said, 'Can you confirm that this person passed and kind of help me understand who this was to Manti?' And he did confirm it. And so these were two sources that I believed in, that I had not been dealing with for the first time. I think there's people that maybe expected me and some other people in the media to go [dig] up a corpse. I did try to, at some point, google her obituary and couldn't find it. And yet I've done that with friends' parents in the past and I've not been able to find theirs either. So I figured it was operator error on my part. I think, Dan, that when you're in our business that you learn to trust people and Manti Te'o was a guy I'd interviewed dozens of times, spent time with at the homeless center, saw him three-dimensionally outside of football. And he's a guy that I trusted, and I guess to a certain extent still do trust. Until I get the final picture I still do trust him. And maybe I'm the naive one in this picture but you have to rely on sources."
The South Bend Tribune has been criticized for their faith and trust in Te'o, going with "Cruel Hoax" as the headline the morning after the Deadspin report. Perhaps it's to be expected from Notre Dame's hometown paper. But Hansen and the South Bend Tribune are far from alone in this case. Everyone trusted Te'o and was naive to the hoax unfolding before their eyes. As cynical as it sounds, maybe it was that trust and naiveity that was the media's stumbling block all along.
[H/T Sports Radio Interviews]