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Are Gene Wojciechowski, Media To Blame For The Manti Te’o Girlfriend Hoax?

manti te'o and the media
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The Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax is rocking the sports world, as people scramble to figure out whether Te’o, projected by Mel Kiper Jr. to be a top ten pick in this year’s NFL Draft, was the creator or victim of an elaborate hoax that invented Te’o's girlfriend Lennay Kekua.

Another obvious question that has emerged from the story is who is to blame for this hoax picking up steam and spiraling out of control?

Is it the fault of Te’o for, if his side of the story is true, throwing himself into an online relationship? Is it the documentary turned MTV television series Catfish’s fault for planting the idea in people’s heads to start using online personas to trick people into online relationships on false pretenses?

No, the real loser and party to blame in all of this is the media who, had they just done their jobs in the first place, could have easily seen through this hoax.

The number of conflicting reports from highly respected media outlets and number of times glaring red flags were simply overlooked for the sake of pushing the narrative are jaw dropping, and could have nipped the entire situation in the bud before things got out of hand.

According to the lengthy account of their faux relationship compiled by Deadspin (again, worth the read), there were too many journalistic errors or a lack of any regard for journalistic principles, to count.

First, there was Kekua’s car accident, which was reported to be at three different times by ESPN, the South Bend Tribune, and Sports Illustrated. And we are not talking by a few days here. ESPN said it happened in the month of September, the Tribune said it happened in November, when they first got together, and Sports Illustrated said it happened in April.

The easiest way to clarify this situation would be to try to obtain a police report from the crash which, when reporters found that one didn’t exist, would have immediately led to red flags going up.

Then there was the timeline surrounding Kekua’s death, as well as the death of Te’o's grandmother, Annette Santiago.

Two separate editions of the South Bend Tribune give contradicting reports as to the order in which Santiago and Kekua passed away. The New York Post, ESPN and CBS all have different dates of Kekua’s death from the Tribune, with ESPN and CBS having her death a day later than the Post.

Obviously obtaining a death certificate, or just asking for the date from the death certificate would have been an easy solution to clearing up the cloudy nature of finding out the date in which Kekua died.

That brings us to perhaps the worst offender of them all, ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski, who put together this feature on Te’o and his ability to overcome the tragedy of losing both Santiago and Kekua.

Again, someone who spent as much time as he did around Te’o and putting together a story about him probably should have done his due diligence and made sure that the timeline of events he presented was ironclad. Not only did he fail to do so, but offered the lamest excuse possible as to why he didn’t in an interview yesterday with ESPN.

“Short of asking to see a death certificate, I’m not sure what most people would do differently,” said Wojciechowski.

Well, Gene, asking for a death certificate is the one thing that would have cleared this entire thing up and stopped people like you from bowing at the feet of someone for something that never even happened.

I’m sure plenty of people who haven’t studied journalism would respond to my last paragraph by saying “yeah, but that’s a hard thing to do and who could blame him for not wanting him to force people into an uncomfortable decision.”

Unfortunately for those people, shying away from difficult questions is the opposite of what anyone is trained to do as a journalist. Wojciechowski received a degree in communications and journalism from the University of Tennessee, and should therefore know this and apply it to his craft.

I mean, I earned a journalism degree from the far less prestigious University at Albany and can tell you with full confidence that any professor worth standing in front of a class will drill into your head that journalism is about doing things you are often not one hundred percent comfortable doing in order to ensure quality and accuracy in your stories.

Wojciechowski, by choosing not to ask for a death certificate, failed as a sports reporter and was one of many media members and outlets that are fully responsible for the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax spiraling out of control.

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