A student asks:
What are your thoughts on how the media covered the Te’o story? What should they have done differently?
The catchup: Yesterday, Deadspin published a piece revealing that a Notre Dame football player’s girlfriend, whose death from cancer motivated him during the season, well, she never really existed.
My student notes an ESPN reporter’s response that there wasn’t much he could do when he couldn’t locate documentation about the girlfriend. (Apparently he’s forgotten that old adage “When your mother says she loves you, check it out.”)
One of the Deadspin writers attributed the problem to a lack of investigative reporting emphasis in an interview with Poynter.
But in my experience, many sports desks - especially local news outlets - don’t want to delve deeply into their local sports heroes’ potential peccadilloes. While at the Florida Times-Union in 1988, i was one of two primary reporters on a seven-day series on the NCAA’s enforcement policies. Analytical skills and a knowledge of sports landed this then-biz reporter on the story. The other reporter was from the metro desk. A sports reporter wrote one story, an interview with a key coach that neither of us could get. But editors appeared to differentiate between news and sports reporters on this project.
In other instances, i’ve argued with sports reporters over whether heavy drinking in public by a college athletic director should be a story - and i’d contend it should have been. And let me acknowledge it would have been a story at some of the newspapers where i’ve worked, probably including the T-U.
In the end, i personally don’t give much of a damn about the fake girlfriend. It turns out that it literally isn’t a life-or-death matter. It calls into question either honesty or intellect of a football player. Really, who cares?
But the media hullabaloo around it is disappointing, when i consider another story about a young girl, now dead, and Notre Dame football.
My friend Melinda Henneberger is one of the few journalists who’ve written extensively about the suicide of Lizzy Seeberg, whose allegations of rape against a Notre Dame player went virtually ignored.
Lizzy Seeberg’s rape and her subsequent death are real - yet they received not a fraction of the attention from the media or from the Notre Dame athletic department that the girlfriend hoax has.
And that is truly sad.
P.S. Let me note that when my students offer up the “my (insert grandmother, grandfather, family friend here) died” excuse to get out of a test, i do insist on seeing an obituary or some other proof of death. And guess what? Several of those students decide they don’t really need to be there for the “funeral.”