SOUTH BEND —
Other than the Deadspin reporters who connected the complex Twitter-sphere dots with the embellished accounts of the relationship in the media, we all whiffed on this one.
Respected ESPN reporter Gene Wojciechowski was one of the first to broadcast the story of Te’o’s girlfriend nationally. Te’o told Wojciechowski that Kekua was the most beautiful person he’s ever met because of her character. There’s a vagueness in Te’o’s comments that in retrospect all journalists wish they would have pounced on.
Wojciechowski even admitted as much, saying in radio interviews Thursday that he looked for information about Kekua’s death in popular databases, but came up empty. When he asked Te’o if he could speak with Kekua’s family, he said he was told that the family wanted to maintain its privacy. He respected that.
It was a story simply to good not to tell, despite the journalistic hangup of verification. After all, Wojeciechowski — who is a 30-year sports journalism veteran who has also worked for The Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News and Chicago Tribune — got the story straight from Te’o’s mouth. Why would he lie?
Then there is Te’o’s father, Brian, who told Eric Hansen of The South Bend Tribune that Manti and Kekua met after a 2009 football game in Stanford and that Kekua would come to Hawaii to visit Manti and the Te’o family during the summer. That account, apparently isn’t true either since Manti Te’o admitted Wednesday that he never met Kekua face to face. Their relationship, he said, existed entirely online and over the phone.
Obviously that story was published and the myth continued to snowball into the avalanche it is today. It got to the point that Te’o’s tale evaporated into the public domain of perceived fact seemingly re-told over and over around sportswriter campfires.