Journalism Undermined by Te'o Ruse

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 18, 2013 | Go to article overview

Journalism Undermined by Te'o Ruse


Byline: Christopher Harper, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

It might be time for a serious gut check for sports journalism - and maybe for other journalists, too. The revelation by an online publication, Deadspin, about how numerous journalists helped spread a tragic and false story of the death of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o's girlfriend demands that gut check.

Deadspin called out CBS, ESPN, Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated and others for taking the story at face value when, in fact, it turned out the tale of Lennay Kekua was a hoax played out on the Internet.

It is unclear whether Te'o or Notre Dame, which promoted the story and that of the actual death of Te'o's grandmother the same day, was complicit in the false account. Nevertheless, news organizations, with the exception of Deadspin, did not check out the facts.

How is this possible? Sports and politics often deal in analysis and speculation, with a few facts: wins and losses, and election results. In between final scores and actual votes, political and sports analysts have to chew on scenarios. Therefore, it came as a surprise to most sports fans in Philadelphia that Charles Chip Kelly, who had reportedly said he planned to stay as the coach at the University of Oregon, accepted the head coaching job of the Philadelphia Eagles. Similarly, many political analysts were nonplussed when President Obama won the election because that's not what many flawed polls were saying.

But political and sports journalists are not alone. Reporters at the massacre in Newtown, Conn., got the following wrong: the identity of the gunman, the gun used in the shootings, the role his mother had (or did not) at the school.

Each example here undermines the credibility of all journalists. That's about the only significant aspect for a journalist's reputation. And the public ranks journalists as among the least credible people in the U.S. …

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