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Did ESPN Drop the Ball by Not Reporting Manti Te’o Story?

by on February 8, 2013

In a recent New York Times article, authors Richard Sandomir and James Andrew Miller shed light on how ESPN lost out to Deadspin as the first media source to report about the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax.

Despite being tipped off by Teo’s agent, Tom Condon, six days before the Deadspin article was published, ESPN held the story, and then lost it. Some executives inside ESPN did not feel they had enough material to publish the story. ESPN’s Chief of News Vince Doria stated, “We were very close. We wanted to be very careful.”

Deadspin, on the other hand, received the same tip a day after ESPN and immediately assigned two reporters to the story. They received the tip a day after and researched, investigated, and reported the story before ESPN. They immediately did a reverse image search of Lennay Kekua, Te’o’s girlfriend, and found out it was from a Facebook account from a girl in California who had never talked to Te’o. Tim Burke, a co-writer of the article for Deadspin, didn’t understand how ESPN didn’t find enough information to go forward with the story. “They didn’t talk to anyone who we were talking to,” said Burke. Deadspin editor Tommy Craggs, said, “Given the same amount of information we had, I can’t think of a media outlet that wouldn’t run with that.”

According to the article, a potential reason why they waited to publish the article is because they wanted an on-camera interview with Te’o to go along with it. Not only did ESPN miss out on the breaking story, they missed out on the on-screen interview as well. Te’o did speak for two and a half hours with ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap, but ESPN was not allowed to have cameras and could only use two minutes of audio. Te’o’s first on-camera interview went to Katie Couric, who coincidentally has the same public relations adviser as Te’o.

Over the past few years, ESPN has increasing been scrutinized about their ability to aggressively report on embarrassing issues with leagues and teams that they have lucrative broadcast deals with. Do you think this played a role in ESPN’s reporting of the Te’o story, considering the Notre Dame vs. Alabama game broadcasted on the network a week prior delivered the second highest ratings on cable ever?

Do you think it was ethical for ESPN to sit on a story and delay the public from knowing breaking news, in order to get an on-camera interview? If you were in ESPN’s shoes, how would you have approached breaking the story: aggressive or careful?

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One Comment
  1. About the whole subject in the first place; its ridiculous. The whole Te’o story is a joke. The fact that it was breaking news for two days on SportsCenter, and other shows, is absurd. ESPN is known for taking smaller stories that should not get that much coverage and blowing them up (New York Jets off-season, Tim Tebow, LeBron James, just to name a few). Why do they do this? Because they know people are always going to come back to them. I actually think they did the right thing by not actively pursuing the story of the fake hoax, even though they were the network that blew up that whole story back in September. I think that ESPN realized that regardless of who got to the story first, people were going to check up on ESPN anyway. I’m willing to bet that out of the people who heard about the story, only a small percentage of them actually read the article from DeadSpin, while the majority just turned on ESPN and watched the coverage of it. They are so big of a network, maybe they actually realized that going after this stupidity of a story shouldn’t be their number one priority, so they’ll just wait for the news to come out and then start reporting it.

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