By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Already, the saps are at it again.
The same people who were kicking themselves just hours ago and apologizing publicly to readers, viewers and listeners for being suckered by an impossible fairy tale have apparently failed to learn any substantive lesson from their embarrassment.
Manti Te’o admits to lying about the soul-mate he never had, using a tightly managed interview with a lone reporter, off camera, late on a Friday night, with his lawyer/PR consultant at his side. He described how he “tailored” his stories to continue perpetuating the sick myth of his living/dead/resurrected girlfriend, a clever choice of words to abstract the fact that he was lying.
Te’o lied about having met her face-to-face, added all kinds of other colorful details in an interview with Sports Illustrated, then lied about her existence multiple times even after he said he became aware of the hoax. And now we are supposed to believe him when he tries to explain exactly when he was telling the truth?
His embellishments make him complicit, no matter where along the timeline one wants to pinpoint his involvement. Though he and his powerful new agents have successfully shaped the story into one of an innocent naïf who was played for a fool by a crazy person, the story still makes no sense under real scrutiny. ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap himself came off as more than a little bewildered by it all, as he bumbled through his own explanations.
Te’o will stick to his professionally-engineered talking points when he speaks soon with Katie Couric (whose longtime spokesman Matthew Hiltzik was just hired by the Te’o family, not coincidentally), attempting to advance what has been accepted by media members snapping back to their comfortable, lazy positions. He will be trying to lock things in and put them away, now that enough are buying his angle.
Jack Swarbrick bought it. The awkward Notre Dame AD — who never met a crisis he couldn’t bungle – was too quick to tie the school to Te’o’s version of events, and made the unfortunate choice to go all-in in support of Te’o’s character. He may want some of that back now that Te’o’ has finally owned up to lying.
Wait: ”tailoring.” Sorry.
The woman he called “the love of my life” while exploiting her as part of his maudlin Heisman campaign was not even worth a visit in the hospital as she battled leukemia? Nope.
His reason? “I don’t know. I was in school.”
That’s just not good enough. Not for me, and not for any reasonable person trying to sort through the aftermath of one of the strangest stories in our experience. None of it is good enough from Te’o, whose credibility is shot.
If one takes his current story at face value – his current explanation of retroactive conveniences that has been molded by CAA experts – then he is seen merely as an irretrievable idiot. NFL teams would be wise to wonder if somebody this stupid is worth the risk, if he’s such an easy mark, since the human lampreys that swim near professional athletes would feed. It’s possible, too, that his entire signing bonus could be wired to an exiled Nigerian prince before the ink on the contract is dry.
He may have begun trying to mislead people and invent details for the story only after getting in too deep and becoming disoriented in the tangled web. But the point is, he did. We know he is capable of lying – big, public, complicated lying — which is why nothing can be taken off the table, including his role in this from the very beginning.
Critics and analysts have a professional responsibility as skeptics. That obligation is something I thought had been rediscovered and reaffirmed in the wake of this story, but it appears to not have lasted. Too bad.
Proven, admitted liars forfeit the benefit of any doubt from anyone, but especially those trusted to maintain a higher standard.
We have no reason whatsoever to believe Manti Te’o about anything, and too many reasons not to.