Thursday, January 17, 2013

Which Lie Do You Believe?

The headlines say that Heisman trophy runner-up Manti Te’o never had a girlfriend who died. The media, including Sports Illustrated, widely covered the story in the fall when the star football player said he lost her the same day he lost his grandma (the ladder part is true). He spoke of fighting on -- in his girlfriend’s honor. But the story is a big fat lie. The only question is did he perpetrate the hoax or fall victim to it? Either way, the media and the people who fell for this story lose out.

I don’t have any more facts than you do on this, but from what I have seen of media accounts it is obvious this story raises many ugly questions – and drums up suspicion about the news media, the Internet, and a gullible public.

First, let’s explore the media’s role in this hoax:

1.      Why hadn’t the media uncovered the hoax sooner? Granted, no one will ask the grieving player for a death certificate and they had no reason to doubt the story, but how come they did not try to get interviews with her family/friends? Why didn’t they just Google her name? Or contact Stanford, where she supposedly had been a student? They would have seen red flags.
2.      How do traditional media, with its vast experience, trainings and resources get scooped on the exposing of the hoax by a gossip Web site DeadSpin?
3.      If the media doesn’t check into the stories it reports, it makes you wonder what percentage of stories in the media are fake, wrong, biased, or incomplete.

Second, a microscope needs to be put to all things online:

1.      Once again the Internet has reminded us we can’t trust what we cannot see and touch. Too many scammers, liars, cheaters and losers hide behind digital personas.
2.      If we believe the player’s story, we still need to question his judgment: How do you say someone is your girlfriend if you never met her after three years of communications? We each have a duty to do some due diligence on whether we are talking to a shadow online.

Third, the truth seems to always take a beating:

1.      If the player really is the victim of the hoax, why didn’t he tell the media and contact the police in December, once he supposedly learned the truth?
2.      Once Notre Dame learned in December that it was a hoax, why didn’t it call the NCAA, the media or the police?
3.      Who stood to gain the most from this hoax? The player got attention and sympathy from telling the story over and over.  Was he hoping this little drama would provide the extra help needed to win the Heisman or net big endorsement money or win over other women? Or did someone set him up because they hoped the crushing news of her death or non-death would mess with his on-the-field performance? Was someone so vengeful over something that they would purposely want to make him crazy? Did the hoaxers also scam money from him, perhaps to pay for the funeral he never attended or to pay for the radiation treatments that never took place?
4.      We need to get to the bottom of this, even if in the end, you conclude you don’t care about this guy or his story.  There is a paper trail here: track emails and phone numbers. Interview friends and family. Get to the truth – so we can move on and know who to blame. Once it is revealed there is a lie, usually other lies follow.

What really intrigues me about this story is it is hard to believe it went on for as long as it did. Then again, Wall Street and media scrutiny never caught Bernie Madoff.

I don’t follow college sports – just the pros – so I never heard of this player or his yarn about his dead girlfriend. But the media should have delved a little further, not because they had reason to believe it was a lie, but because they naturally look to cover a human interest story in depth. It would be logical for them to interview her family or friends or to talk to people who knew her. They would have found no one.

This kid will need help, either as perpetrator or victim. As a victim, how will he trust another woman or person to come into his life again?  As a perpetrator, how will anyone trust him again? He will need a good lawyer and a better therapist after this is done.

It was just a week ago that the biggest "scandal" in college football was when the harmless Brent Mussburger praise of a beautiful beauty pageant winner set off a tizzy. That turned out to be a non-story.

One thing is for sure: You cannot believe all that is in the news media because not all of the facts are facts. People want to believe what they want to believe. Today, we simply cannot believe how this could have happened.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This blog is copyrighted material by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2013 ©

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