And Then You Win: Te'o And The Media
I've been a little out of it the last few days. Not enough to not see every Manti Te'o fake dead girlfriend joke in the world come through my twitter feed, but out of it, more given to trying to keep various fluids in my nose than trying to figure out any deep takeaways from the fact that Notre Dame's star player had a fake internet girlfriend who fake internet died.
I had to get one in a hurry when I went on WTKA this morning, because everyone in the world is talking about it—I hopped into a minimart to grab something to eat and it was on, like, CNN. CNN 2012 is to CNN 1994 as TLC 2012 is to TLC 1994…
…but it's a big deal when your fake girlfriend turns out dead, I guess. So the brain went and processed and came out with these things.
THIS IS NOT SURPRISING, PART I. We are talking about a Mormon guy from Hawaii who turned down USC to attend a Catholic school in South Bend, Indiana, that had not ever been remotely competitive in a BCS game because of… nice grass or something. A mural on a building. Whatever causes people to go to Notre Dame minus the "I'm Catholic" angle. He left Hawaii for South Bend, Indiana. Clearly this is a gullible man.
THIS IS NOT SURPRISING, PART II. What percentage of massively credulous undergraduate population of Notre Dame do you think has an internet girlfriend? All of them. Every last person participating in the annual Dillon Hall tickle fight has an internet girlfriend they have never met.
She is a princess from Sub-Saharan Africa currently in boarding school, and she doesn't care that by even communicating with Wallace Anglerson The Third she risks her inheritance—her very place in society—as long as you keep talking about how bad the last season of Battlestar Galactica was. It's love. Her name is "Angel," except in one of those clicky languages. Here is a picture of her.
Te'o would tell his friends about his internet girlfriend, and they would say "my internet girlfriend is hotter." Jimmy Clausen had two, the cad. Six weeks after graduation it gradually dawns on them that some of the men they hung out with were actually girls.
It would be weird if Manti Te'o didn't have a fake internet girlfriend hailing from somewhere far away from South Bend. If Notre Dame's nickname had been updated to reflect changes in student demographics they would be the Fightin' Lonely Credulous Nerds.
THIS IS NOT SURPRISING, PART III. As Jonathan Chait points out, it wouldn't be an inspiring story about a Notre Dame hero if it wasn't fiction:
Fake, schmaltzy inspirational tales are the essence of the culture of the program. The inspirational story of Knute Rockne and his dying player, George Gipp, became a famous movie that helped enshrine Notre Dame football in the culture. In reality, Rockne was an ethically dubious sports gambler, Gipp a pool hustler, and the main events of the story — Gipp’s dying wish to “win one for the Gipper,” Rockne’s inspirational halftime speech —never happened.
Likewise, Rudy is the inspirational story of a walk-on who overcame the odds to play football at Notre Dame, but the story is also filled with falsehoods. Rudy, by the way, turned out to be a stock scammer.
The only thing that's strange about this is that Te'o's grandmother is not only hale and hearty today but also manipulating Vegas lines with his grandson's collusion.
THIS IS NOT SURPRISING, PART IV… ACTUALLY THIS IS A LITTLE SURPRISING. For a while now Deadspin has been a weird mélange of athlete dong pics, Drew Magary trying to one-up himself until his columns are just lists of insults followed by exclamation points, and the best dang investigative journalism around*. (They've cut down on the wantonly-screwing-people-no-one's-ever-heard-of-in-a-petulant-fit since the departure of AJ Daulerio.)
The best example: A couple years ago Tommy Craggs published internal MLB financial documents that revealed small market teams—including the Marlins, recipients of a new publicly-funded stadium—were simply pocketing revenue-sharing money instead of using it to improve the product they put in front of their fans. This pissed MLB off so much they tried to sue the insurance company they came from to find the person who leaked the documents so they could sue him. When's the last time something a newspaper wrote caused a major league to go on a suing vendetta? I can't recall.
Anyway, the jarring thing is this story comes immediately after the baseball writers refused to vote anyone into the hall of fame for using the PEDs they studiously ignored for a decade. Meanwhile the following Legitimate Media Organizations ran with Te'o's Fake Dead Girlfriend:
2. You (Jack Dickey and Timothy Burke excepted)
7. The Chicago Tribune
8. The Chicago Sun-Times
9. The Sporting News
10. USA Today
11. The Boston Globe
12. CBS Sports
13. The New York Post
16. The Associated Press
17. The Palm Beach Post
18. The Miami Herald
19. The Tampa Bay Times
21. The Los Angeles Times
Go home newspapers, you're drunk.
If you're not going to call, to confirm, to make sure someone actually exists, what do you have left? If Deadspin has you beat on the low end and the high end, what is your purpose?
“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”
Remember when writers at regional Iowa papers looked down their nose at bloggers and their unverified voracity?
In the new "journalism of assertion," as the report calls it, information is offered with little time and little attempt to independently verify its voracity. [sic]
I don't either. Long time ago, in a different media place. The only people still pretending sportswriters aren't PR are the baseball writers, long may they stew in their curly-haired uselessness.
I have met my wife.
*[With apologies to Charles Robinson.]