Timothy Burke of Deadspin and How He Cracked the Manti Te’o Code
Lavar and Dukes have been on a warpath to get to the bottom of the Manti Te’o controversy ever since breaking the news live on the air Wednesday afternoon, and took one step closer to reconstructing the scene by inviting the co-author of the original Deadspin article onto Thursday’s show.
Timothy Burke and Deadspin cracked Te’o’s legacy wide open as soon as they published “Manti Te’o’s Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking And Inspirational Story of the College Football Season, Is A Hoax.” Minutes later, it seemed everyone in a cube across America was standing around the water cooler, discussing the disgraced star falling back to earth.
From superhero to public enemy number one, all in a matter of minutes, Manti Te’o has become the object of public deception.
Deadspin was the first to publicly question the death of Te’o's alleged girlfriend – citing that no birth certificate could be found, or any record of her being a student at Stanford, as Te’o himself had mentioned in previous interviews.
This of course yielded a Twitter search, which quickly elevated into a frenzy to find any existence of Lennay Kekua, which of course yielded this:
Manti Te'o (@MTeo_5) September 12, 2012
As Burke and his partner Jack Dickey peeled back the countless layers of this onion, they began to suspect that Kekua never existed.
Below is a Q&A between Lavar & Dukes and Burke about how the story began to unravel for them:
How much research did it require of you guys to piece this thing together?
“We spent five days on this. Those were five days of working 18 hour days. Ever since we got an anonymous tip on Friday that said Lennay Kekua is worth looking into. Jack Dickey and I really buckled down and figured out everything we could. Proving a negative is always difficult. How do you prove that someone doesn’t exist? We had to start with whatever media information had been published about her. And that’s when we noticed that a lot of these media reports were contradictory. We had five different reports of different times that she died. We had different places where her funeral was. Once we started noticing that those things didn’t add up, we realized we had a story.”
How do you come up with an alibi that covers you for being hoaxed?
“The real question is why Manti Te’o’s father was telling the newspapers that his son met his girlfriend in 2009 after a Stanford game when we know that didn’t happen? And why he was telling the newspapers that his girlfriend used to come visit him in Hawaii when we know that didn’t happen? Because if his girlfriend was visiting him in Hawaii, wouldn’t he have introduced her to his parents?”
Is it possible that Te’o constructed this whole hoax to cover up his sexual preference?
“Why he was hiding the truth is not of huge consequence to me, unless it is a specific incentive to hide the truth? What incentive does a person have to create a false persona and spend a year catering to Manti Te’o pretending to be his girlfriend, being there 24 hours a day for him? What incentive does that person have unless they want to waste every minute of their life? Unless that person and the person he had with them are absolutely psychotic, nobody’s going to go to that length.”
But if he is covering up potential homosexuality, wouldn’t he go to great lengths to hide it?
“The idea saddens me. When you have an opinion as a journalist, about how you would like the outcome to be, I think it gets in the way of what actually happened. Figuring out what is a necessary step to figuring out the why. If he is completely innocent and a victim of a hoax, that’s an interesting story. If he was a mastermind behind the hoax, that’s also an interesting story.”
How culpable is Notre Dame?
“There’s clearly a culture there that diminishes and downplays and denies things that may cast a negative shadow across the golden dome.”
Is there a way to completely separate Te’o from culpability now that we know so much?
“If you look really carefully at how Manti Te’o described the moment that he was told that his girlfriend was dead — we have video of him telling the story four or five different times — and he tells the story with the exact same words and the exact same inflection and the exact same pace and the exact same candor each time. And it’s very emotional and it’s a very intense moment, but it’s also very practiced. That’s the sort of thing you notice that makes you wonder, how much of this hoax is he retroactively enhancing?”
What’s the question that sticks in your craw the most?
“When did he find out? When did he find out that Kekua did not exist?”