News and Tribune

Community News Network

January 17, 2013

Media buys into tale of athlete's tragic love

Was it too good to check?

Reporters from the South Bend Tribune to CBS to Sports Illustrated all repeated the story about the heartbreaking death of a young woman and her alleged romantic links to a Notre Dame football hero.

One problem: It appears not to be true. As the sports website Deadspin.com reported Wednesday, the woman — identified in TV, print and Web stories for months as Lennay Kekua — never existed. Her reported death and relationship with University of Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o seem to have been an elaborate hoax.

Although it's still not clear who created and perpetrated the apparent deception, the media took Te'o's word for it without inquiring further.

In a statement released by Notre Dame after the Deadspin report broke Wednesday, Te'o said that he believed that his "girlfriend" existed, at least online. He said he, like the news media, was duped into believing that Kekua died of leukemia in September.

"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online," he said. "We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating."

Reporters perpetuated and built upon the questionable story of the doomed relationship, taking for granted that previously reported facts were true, said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based organization that studies the news business.

He likened the Te'o story to widespread media reports of rampant looting and killings in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, including tales of dead bodies stacked in police freezers. Those stories — which were given especially prominent play in foreign news outlets — seemed to confirm a narrative of a violent underclass unleashed on a city in which authority had broken down. Virtually all of the most lurid stories turned out to be false.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Community News Network
LOCAL MAGAZINES
Easter 2014 photos


Click on any photo to purchase it.

SPECIAL CONTENT
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
AP Video
Plane Crashes in Taiwan, Dozens Feared Dead Republicans Hold a Hearing on IRS Lost Emails Raw: Mourners Gather As MH17 Bodies Transported Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-free Travel Raw: MH17 Bodies Arrive in Netherlands Raw: Fight Breaks Out in Ukraine Parliament Disabled Veterans Memorial Nearing Completion Last Mass Lynching in U.S. Remains Unsolved Home-sharing Programs Help Seniors Ex-NYC Mayor: US Should Allow Flights to Israel Clinton: "AIDS-Free Generation Within Our Reach" Judge Ponders Overturning Colo. Gay Marriage Ban Airlines Halt Travel to Israel Amid Violence VA Nominee McDonald Goes Before Congress US Official: Most Migrant Children to Be Removed Police Probing Brooklyn Bridge Flag Switch CDC Head Concerned About a Post-antibiotic Era Courts Conflicted Over Healthcare Law Raw: Truck, Train Crash Leads to Fireball
2013 Photos of the year


Take a look at our most memorable photos from 2013.