Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel put out on Oct. 1 a pivotal piece of reporting on Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o's relationship with girlfriend Lennay Kekua. It’s a classic SI article, combining some sweet writing, a dose of insider analysis and plenty of human-interest content. And with the aid of what we learned yesterday afternoon, the story is now a monument to media gullibility, laziness and incompetence.
Until you listen to its author, SI’s Pete Thamel. Then you realize that it’s also a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I tale.
In a chat with sports-world czar Dan Patrick, Thamel makes the following points:
- When he went to Notre Dame to do his story on Te’o, Thamel didn’t get access to the linebacker until the tail end of his visit.
- As he went about gathering string for the piece, Thamel got barraged by news and chatter about Te’o's deceased girlfriend. A priest at Notre Dame tells Thamel he believed he’d met the girlfriend. Other sources told Thamel about how Te’o stood before his team and talked about Kekua’s death. He also got a description of the moment when Te’o received telephonic word that she’d died. “By the time I got to Manti Te’o on Sunday, there wasn’t a whole lot of, like, ‘Does she exist?’ thinking in my head,” Thamel tells Patrick.
- Thamel did check databases and obits for Kekua; nothing, of course, came up. Yet Thamel attests to having experience pumping the names of people in their early 20s into public-records databases: Sometimes they haven’t created the necessary footprint to surface thereupon.
There’s a simple and reason-defying takeaway from Thamel’s account. His mistakes are at once understandable and inexcusable.