While ESPN Debated, Deadspin Leveraged the Internet

By Jason Priestas on January 23, 2013 at 6:58a

The New York Times has the background on the scoop that's torturing ESPN executives:

On Jan. 16, a fierce debate raged inside ESPN. Reporters for the network had been working for almost a week trying to nail down an extraordinary story: Manti Te’o’s girlfriend — the one whose death from leukemia had haunted and inspired him during a triumphant year on the field for Notre Dame — might be a hoax.

Some inside the network argued that its reporters — who had initially been put onto the story by Tom Condon, Te’o’s agent — had enough material to justify publishing an article. Others were less sure and pushed to get an interview with Te’o, something that might happen as soon as the next day. For them, it was a question of journalistic standards. They did not want to be wrong.

Meanwhile, across town:

Deadspin, its editor said in an interview this week, had also received a tip about the hoax, a day after ESPN had been alerted. The Web site assigned two reporters to the story. At the heart of the article Deadspin published was a reverse-image Internet search of the photograph on Twitter that Te’o, a star linebacker, had relied upon as proof of Kekua’s existence. It had been lifted from the Facebook account of an unsuspecting California woman who had never spoken with Te’o.

And that's the story of how a reverse image search proved better than waiting for an official statement or on-camera interview, kids.


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gumtape's picture

I heard an interview with the Deadspin Editor on Slate's Hang up and listen Podcast and he details the speed at which they researched the story and how they have a social media expert that was able to determine the origin of the mystery girl. He comes across as very knowledgable, yet also determined. They gave T'eo and ND 30 minutes of lead time to respond to the story before publishing, which, considering they already knew about it, they considered to be plenty of time.
This all came after a tip from a reader.

High and tight boo boo

NC_Buckeye's picture

So the Deadspin source was a tip from a reader and ESPiN's source was a tip from Te'o's agent. Whoa, that perfectly fits my own narrative of how this "hoax" became public.
Sometime around Dec. 6th, Deadspin got their tip. Deadspin tracks down the facebook photo, contacts the woman, who then contacts Tuiasosopo to get an explanation. Tuiasosopo and Te'o scramble to create a backstory and start dropping internet breadcrumbs. Around Dec. 26th, Te'o informs his agent (yes, Te'o's agent actually knows what really happened) who tells him they have to inform ND of the "hoax". Right now. He can manage a press conference and the traditional sports media. He can't manage a breaking news story on Deadspin.
Mark my words, this is all going to become public knowledge at some point when Tuiasosopo or one of his relatives/friends sells the story to a National Enquirer-type paper. By then it won't matter because Te'o will have already established himself in the NFL.
I refuse to buy the Te'o-is-a-patsy storyline. Sleeping while on the phone with a girl you have never met and doing it multiple times is not the real world. And this was only one of many red-flag details.

btalbert25's picture

Why would Te'o have an agent before his final college game????  He's not allowed to have an agent on December 26th, when he played the national championship 10 days later.  

NC_Buckeye's picture

Actually that might explain why the backstory is so lame. Two 20-somethings are not going to create a backstory that is equivalent to the one an agent (plus agency's PR handlers) could contrive.
Anyways, there is more to this than what's being divulged by Te'o's camp. IT'S GOING TO COME OUT EVENTUALLY.

Jack Fu's picture

According to Craggs Deadspin got their tip on January 11 and they published the story five days later.

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

ESPiN hasn't realized the internet doesn't wait for them.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

texasbuckeye's picture

ESPN has zero journalistic standards.

omahabeef1337's picture

Everyone hates on ESPN, but this is an example of how ESPN has higher (or maybe arguably outdated) journalistic standards than Deadspin. It obviously worked out for Deadspin, but I have no problem with news outlets fact checking and verifying before putting a story out there.

cronimi's picture

Fact-checking is one thing, and certainly should be done by journalists, whether they be tv, print or internet. But to say they couldn't run the story before interviewing Teo is total BS. Did espin wait to report on Tatgate until they talked with JT or TP? Hell no. Yes, Yahoo broke the story, but espin certainly did plenty of 'original' reporting on the topic without ever speaking with Tressel, Pryor, or the others. 

buckeye_baker's picture

Agreed, they seem to pick and choose their standards. The reporting of Pryor taking tens of thousands for autographs comes to mind. The only thing they needed for that was a source who refused to go on record.

"I can accept failure, but I can't accept not trying." -Woody Hayes

Normal Buck's picture

Agreed.  Needing to wait for an interview seems like kind of a Paterno-esque excuse.

Jack Fu's picture

Not necessarily. Considering that Te'o's own agent fed them the story, and the NYT article seems to indicate that ESPN never spoke to any of the actual people Deadspin contacted who knew Tuiasosopo, they probably had no idea who was behind the hoax. I think it's just as likely that ESPN's original intended spin on the story was entirely from Te'o's perspective. I bet if ESPN breaks that story, it's "another chapter in the sad tale of the snakebitten Manti Te'o, who just can't catch a break and is using this series of setbacks as fuel to prepare for the combine and draft (and oh-by-the-way this setback may have contributed to his absolutely god-awful performance in the national championship game, so no need to focus on that game, NFL GMs)." Tom Rinaldi speaking in a grave voice and then grimacing and shaking his head in understanding while Te'o spins his latest tale of woe. You know, the usual ESPN "overcoming adversity" schtick. The kinds of stories that Craggs decried on Hang Up and Listen as, "simpering crap founded on this misbegotten idea that you can adduce character traits and aspects of personality to the story of the quality of someone’s play." I think that's just as likely as ESPN's claim that they were holding off because of "journalistic standards," if not moreso.

BuckDavis's picture

Couldn't have said it better myself. According to Deadspin, for what it's worth, ESPN hadn't done half the research Deadspin had done. Deadspin was definitely in a position to report it with credibility, and they did. ESPN wanted to get a public interview with Te'o for him to reveal the story, thus giving Te'o and ESPN continued control of the narrative. 

USMC11917's picture

Fact Checking? Like what they did before they aired the "Feel Good" story and stoked the Heisman campaign for Te'o?

omahabeef1337's picture

If you'd been wrong once, wouldn't you want to make sure you get it right the next time? The worth of a news organization is based on its ability to be factually accurate.
I probably often side with the media in these situations because my dad is a media member and for around 10 years covered a major college football program. People assume too often that people in the media have a slant they try to put into their coverage. Most of the time, they're just trying to get the story right.

USMC11917's picture

I can understand your point of view and the way you perceive things. From my experiences, the media cares first most about hooking the viewer and sensationalizing an event if they can get away with it. We can have a disagreement about the drive behind the current media and that is okay. I appreciate your insight.

Hoody Wayes's picture

Others were less sure and pushed to get an interview with Te’o, something that might happen as soon as the next day. For them, it was a question of journalistic standards. 
Upholding this kind of stewardship is hard, when the network logo and its acronym, stands for: Entertainment and Sports Programming Network. There's no "J" in ESPN - nor much integrity, for that matter.
Finding integrity within the walls of ESPN must be like rummaging through a tacky - over-stuffed - couch, for loose change.
And what happens when they find this currency, at ESPN? 
They're paralyzed. ESPN's struggle to cover the Jerry Sandusky story as it broke was laughable and earned it a harsh rebuke from its own ombudsman. Arguably, the Te'o story - a lesson in unscrupulous immaturity - was closer to ESPN's sweet-spot.
But, they whiffed in Bristol.
And Deadspin - a blog - beat the "Worldwide Leader." 

Unky Buck's picture

Don't they embrace debate over there at ESPN?

Rock over London; Rock on Chicago. Timex: It takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'

Maceyko's picture

ESPN now has journalistic standards?  Wow.  That is very cool.  So I assume they fired Mark May then????

Kurt's picture

Good for the NY Times to delve into this back-story.  Interesting discussion.

Buckeye Chuck's picture

It sounds like Condon knew the jig was up, and was looking for as soft a landing for his client as was possible. It would have worked, but for Deadspin having a different source. ESPN got lazy because they assumed no one else was working the story.
An irony here is that Deadspin founding editor Will Leitch has cited ESPN's failure to report on the Michael Vick "Ron Mexico" story as an inspiration for the site. The Worldwide Leader has too many entanglements and "partnerships" to be counted on to break news that's embarrassing for those partners. 

The most "loud mouth, disrespect" poster on 11W.

E2Brutus's picture

This just further proves that ESPN is filled with interviewers, story-tellers, and sports fanatics NOT investigative journalists. They were never built to reveal stories like this one or the Syracuse/Fine situation or anything like them. They're too close to the sports they follow and in the end too afraid scandals will negatively affect their bottom line (BCS Championship, Big East TV deal etc.)

BuckeyeMark's picture

There's so much mishandling of this Teo mess it's just pathetic. 

Why didn't Condon break the story?  He could've done on it his terms, with his client in hand, ready to be interviewed, questions scripted, be contrite, etc.  This is a completely different story if it breaks on ESPN or CBS Sports with an exclusive interview of a weepy Teo saying "I am dumb, and I was duped and I was embarassed and let it get away from me."  I daresay it'd would've gone away since most of what has followed has been "who knew what when."  Teo tells all of that in a managed press conference and it's a non-story.  Dumb jock gets fooled. Wow, that's not really news.
Then ND fumbled it too - nice job AD Swarbrick.  He cried and now looks like a moron because they didn't get in front of the story either. 
As for ESPN, this is nothing new.  Any time a story is breaking there has always been the discussion of go/wait for more confirmation.  Apparently if someone at ESPN knew how to do a reverse image search they could've gone.  But ESPN is an entertainment company (that's what the E stands for) and they sure are light on the news part.  And it showed.

Toilrt Paper's picture

ESPN never had a problem being first to the table, without much to go on, when it comes to Ohio State.

btalbert25's picture

They weren't first to the table on Ohio State with anything.  The Tatgate stuff was Yahoo.  The car stuff came from the Dispatch.  

btalbert25's picture

I don't know that ESPN is really in the business of breaking the stories anyway.  Breaking the story doesn't necessarily get them ratings.  If ESPN ran with it and was wrong about it, it would hurt ESPN far more than being the first to break the story would help ESPN. Covering the story after the fact, though, gets them ratings.  This Te'o thing breaks and where do people go to find out more???? ESPN.com or Sportcenter.  ESPN locks down the interview with Te'o and people will tune in to see it.  I give Deadspin a lot of credit for using their resources and coming up with the story and scooping everyone else, but it was much more necessary for Deadspin to break the story than ESPN.  The story happening will get ESPN the eyeballs.  

onetwentyeight's picture

Journalistic standards, not having an agenda, being unbiased, etc etc
Gee whiz I wonder if the WWL might want us to believe something REALLY really badly. Like this kid's full-of-holes logically inconsistent story, perhaps? 
Also, the phone "records" shown to Schapp were on an excel spreadsheet (how hard is it to call AT&T & get a few monthly billing statements?). And even if we give them the greatest benefit of the doubt that Yes, Manti is really just the stupidest MFer ever to live and was truly in love with this girl he'd never met or skyped with. OK. His actions around the time of her death still don't add up. She has leukemia AFTER a near fatal car accident and you don't visit her once? She dies and you don't go to her funeral or meet her family afterwards? Please. 
Somebody wrote somewhere that his supposed reason for not attending the funeral (she would've wanted me to play) is something that you hear about in like a movie. Shit like that doesn't happen in real life. People say shit like that all the time but let me tell you. In real life, when people actually DIE we ignore all that BS. Normal people go to that funeral. They don't play in a f*cking football game that just happens to be the same time (btw, why didn't he contact one of Lennays various fake family members requesting that they hold the funeral like ONE day earlier/later?). This is sports movie bullcrap. In real life when our loved ones die we go to that f*cking funeral over a football game.