Pete Thamel’s article in the Oct. 1, 2012 issue of Sports Illustrated (an issue that has curiously disappeared from SI’s online archives) was heavily cited in Deadspin.com’s story on the Manti Te’o hoax as an example of the national media not verifying the authenticity of Teo’s girlfriend.Thamel went on “The Dan Patrick Show” this morning to try and explain how he got duped (you can hear the entire interview at danpatrick.com).
Leading up to the Te’o interview, Thamel spent several days on Notre Dame’s campus talking to other people. It was those conversations according to Thamel that painted a convincing picture about the girlfriend. “Not only was Manti duped here,” said Thamel. “But the entire campus was duped to the point where Father Paul Doyle said to me ‘I think I met the girl last year.'”
Thamel recounted several other conversations he had with teammates and head coach Brian Kelly. However, according to Thamel, all of those conversations revolved around the day that Te’o learned his girlfriend had passed away.
Thamel said he did look for an obituary and a death notice and let his editor know that there were some “small red flags.” He also explained that a search of public documents came up blank but that it was not unusual for somebody of that age to lack a “footprint.”
And yet, despite feeling at the time that his research was missing “some of the details about Lennay [Kekua],” the conversation with people at Notre Dame left him with little doubt of her existence. “By the time I got to Manti Te’o,” said Thamel. “There wasn’t a whole lot of like ‘Does she exist?’ thinking in my head.”
On the one hand, it is easy to understand why there would not be an inclination to investigate something as basic as a girlfriend. However, Thamel made the story of her death an important element in his story. And in hindsight, those small red flags were bigger than they appeared.
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