According to Manti Te’o, star linebacker of God’s Chosen Team at Notre Dame this season, he was duped into falling in love with a person who did not exist and with whom he had never met in the flesh. According to Manti Te’o, he was duped into speaking about this imaginary girlfriend and her untimely death at length in national interviews. According to Manti Te’o, when his girlfriend allegedly died, he did not attend her funeral. According to Manti Te’o, he just another in a long line of lonely folks who believed that life on the Internet was reality.
I have no idea what to believe anymore.
This Deadspin story is in its early stages but in this early stage, it is incredibly damning for a football player who was projected as a top ten pick in the upcoming NFL draft. If you assume that he was duped by all of this, he must be damaged by the experience beyond words. If you assume that he was complicit in the deception, he must be deranged beyond words. Either way, the young adult’s judgment is now in question and this incident will be stamped at the top of every job application he ever completes in the future. “Te’o? You’re the guy with the fake girlfriend.” That’s quite a cross to bear, even for someone from Notre Dame.
As the story goes today, one man may have been deceived but his story deceived the millions who heard it and read about it over the past several months. Who is to blame for that? I blame America’s favorite villain: the media.
What this Deadspin story exposes more than anything is the shoddy research and story writing that passes for journalism in this country. The “Te’o Succeeds Despite Dead Girlfriend” tragedy has been proliferating across the paid media since September and no one ‘major’ (translation: for profit) media outlet took the time to confirm any facts or independently verify any of the information offered by the football star. This was one story in 2012 that could have used some of the fact checkers that were deployed to the Romney campaign.
The paid media in this country did not only blindly accept for fact whatever the player told them. They reprinted information from other sources without independently verifying anything. Sports Illustrated wrote stuff that they never vetted. The South Bend Tribune printed stuff about Te’o and his relationship with the imaginary Lennay Kekua that could not have been verified independently. Yet they printed it as fact and we believed everything we read.
The standards of journalism on the Internet are suspect and most folks understand and accept that (I thought). There is however an expectation that paid media outlets, such as national publications and newspapers and network television news programs, maintain a sliver of journalistic integrity. Surely these outlets check information for its veracity before broadcasting. Surely I jest…and stop calling me Shirley.
Today is one of those rare days that I walk in lock step with the Far Right conservative voices in America: Don’t trust the media. I differ in that I have learned today not to trust either the liberal or conservative media. Both are either too cheap, too lazy, or too inept to do the hard work of verifying the information they market as fact and entertainment.
From the Deadspin report:
There is no SSA record there of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other. Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper.
Nor is there any report of a severe auto accident involving a Lennay Kekua. Background checks turn up nothing. The Stanford registrar’s office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news. Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there’s no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed.
The photographs identified as Kekua—in online tributes and on TV news reports—are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua. She is not a Stanford graduate; she has not been in a severe car accident; and she does not have leukemia. And she has never met Manti Te’o.
I have no idea what to believe anymore. No one else should either.
A report today from The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management finds that more and more people across the political spectrum believe and rely upon social media for their facts. According to survey respondents, information learned from social media outlets is just as well-regarded as traditional news outlets like television, radio and print.
As written in Politico today, “The survey finds that nearly two-thirds of voters reported that political information on social media was either higher quality or on par with traditional media outlets. For users younger than 25, 71 percent put the same or greater level of trust in content.” You can believe this because it’s in my blog and I cut and pasted it directly from Politico, a source of full vetted factual information, independently verified before going to upload. At least that’s what I thought until today.
The Baby Boomers coined the phrase, “Don’t trust authority.” The Millennials have coined the phrase “Trust Facebook.” Modern journalism has been reduced to 140 characters or less and is ruled by the philosophy that facts should never get in the way of a good story. A Heisman candidate from a religious college says his girlfriend from Stanford was in a car crash and later died of leukemia. A story like that has GOT to be true so fact checking it would be disrespectful. Or maybe fact checking it would cost too much money , take too long or involve too much work. Maybe all three.
I now understand the perspective of the various truther groups out there. Maybe we didn’t land on the moon. Maybe 9/11 was an inside job. Maybe Obama staged Sandy Hook. If everyone believes that everyone else did the journalistic work, then no one could be doing any of the journalistic work. Maybe our reality is a Twitter hoax.
The real Manti Te’o story is that I have no idea what to believe anymore.