Fake girlfriend hoax dupes media too


With just a simple Google image search and a quick phone call to verify the woman’s identity,  an alternative sports publication uncovered a hoax behind one of American college football’s most inspirational stories yet.  But as new details  emerge about the Manti Te’o  fake girlfriend scandal, attention is also focused on the media and how it took so long for the truth to emerge.

The story of the hoax broke Jan. 17 and speculation about who created the fictional online “girlfriend” has Te’o denying he knew anything about it. In an interview with ESPN, Te’o claimed he had been duped and named the person he believed was behind the hoax.

But the news media were duped too.

The media first picked up on the story of Te’o and “Lennay Kekua” Oct. 1st when Sports Illustrated published “The Full Manti”, an article chronicling the Notre Dame football’s star tragic and heroic personal story.

The article (which has since been removed from the magazine’s online archives) reported that Kekua and Te’o’s beloved grandmother had died within six  hours of each other.   The story included details on a supposed car accident Kekua suffered approximately eight months before her death from leukemia.

Other news outlets picked up the story.  An October 2012 article in the South Bend Tribune reported details of the fictional first meeting between Te’o and Kekua after a Notre Dame football game in Palo Alto.

As Deadspin points out in its exposé, details of Te’o and Kekua’s initial meeting, her car accident, and her death vary depending on the source reporting on the couple, with the dates of the events often differing by months.

Using a small team that included a college undergraduate, Deadspin managed to uncover the fact that Kekua did not exist simply by using Google image searches and getting in contact with the real person associated with Kekua’s photos.

This calls into question how thoroughly members of the media are checking  their sources, with many experts speaking out in criticism of the lack of fact-checking. One of those is Tim McGuire, a journalism ethics professor at Arizona State University.

“I’m afraid this is the mark of our times,”  McGuire told USA Today. “It’s an old adage. If your mother tells you (she loves you), check it out. No one’s checking urban myths here. This is really an ugly mark on journalism.”

Thus far, the only statement released by Sports Illustrated on the matter is a one line admission at the end of their coverage of the hoax which reads, “Local and national media, including Sports Illustrated, were duped by the hoax.”

With files from Deadspin and USA Today.

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