Sports Illustrated's readers, 20 million of you weekly, are loyal, discerning, demanding. You turn the magazine's pages with the implicit belief that you are receiving the truth. "Our only partnership is with our readers," former managing editor Mark Mulvoy liked to say. Authoritative, nuanced storytelling and journalism are the pillars of that partnership—one example of which begins on page 50, with the telling of the most unusual sports story in memory (you are free to leave the room, Tonya Harding; you too, Tiger): the Manti Te'o hoax.
SI has a place in this narrative, having accepted Te'o's claim that he had been twice struck by tragedy in a 24-hour period last Sept. 12, first upon receiving news of the death of his grandmother, Annette Santiago, then with the loss of his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua. On the evening that Kekua was purported to have been buried, Te'o had 12 tackles in Notre Dame's 20--3 victory over Michigan State. A week later he had two interceptions in a 13--6 defeat of Michigan. A narrative was born, fresh and irresistible, one that would land Te'o on the cover of SI's Oct. 1 issue, under the billing THE FULL MANTI.
The full Manti, or a fuller one at least, was revealed last week in a comprehensive Deadspin report showing that Kekua did not exist, raising questions about Te'o's role in the hoax and detailing the place of the media—including SI—in advancing that narrative. In the reporting of our Oct. 1 cover story, the right questions were asked, and followed up on, during the interview and editing processes, an unedited accounting of which can be found at SI.com/mag. That several of those questions remained unanswered after further inquiry is understandable, especially in light of what we know now. That Te'o's claims about his girlfriend were allowed to pass through this desk, however, is not. If it looks like Catfish (page 55) and it smells like Catfish, it just might be Catfish. Hindsight is a wonderful, horrible thing.
A story like this calls for an honest acknowledgement of our failure and a rigorous self-examination, but it also yields an opportunity. There is a story, a remarkable one that mutates with each news cycle, to be pursued and told. We begin to tell that story in these pages and on SI.com, and will continue to mine its many layers—tangled, inconclusive, contradictory, fascinating—with the gumshoed thoroughness and gray-hued, informed questioning that you demand of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. And to borrow from Steve Rushin (page 72), we will do it with our collective eyebrow a little more arched, the antennae of our b.s. detector more finely tuned.
January 28, 2013
If it looks like Catfish and it smells like Catfish, it just might be Catfish.