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Like Shooting Catfish in a Barrel: The Te'o Interview and Updates

As the tangled tale of an unimaginable hoax continues to unravel, we bring you updates and notes on the Couric interview.

Manti Te'o leaves the field on Senior Day, Nov. 17, 2012.
Manti Te'o leaves the field on Senior Day, Nov. 17, 2012.
Jonathan Daniel

"People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for."

- To Kill a Mockingbird


On Thursday, the 24th, Katie Couric's interview with Manti Te'o and his parents aired, and Couric herself spoke with broadcasters and newsmakers about the sit-down.

When it comes down to it, nothing was added to the facts of the story in Te'o's interview with Couric. This was an opportunity taken up by Te'o and his parents, surely under the counsel of his advisors, to humanize - to put a face to - a convoluted melodrama that's been stomached with empathy and attentive skepticism by some, but torn into with mockery, cynicism, and rage in much traditional and social media. We can only assume that the continuing stream of corroborating accounts and material evidence, culminating in the Couric interview, was effected in hopes of justly casting Te'o as the victim here, rather than as some farcical villain.

If nothing more, the Couric interview, for those who watched or read the transcripts, showed the genuine pain that this strange and cruel fraud has caused.

From Blue Gold Illustrated's account of the interview:

Throughout the hour-long show, the All-American linebacker spoke about how not wanting to disappoint his parents complicated a cloudy hoax and how ultimately dragging their name into national headlines this month was what hurts him the most.

"The hardest part of this whole experience is to see my family go through it all because of something I did," he said. "The greatest joy in any child's life is to make your parents proud, and the greatest pain is to know that they're experiencing pain because of you."

. . .

Reports this fall that Te'o and Kekua had previously met in Hawaii raised doubts about his innocence in the scam. He said those stories began last winter after a failed attempt to meet Kekua in person while he was home for Christmas break. He told his father the meeting was successful because he didn't want to lose his family's approval.

"That's the thing I regret the most," Te'o said. "I knew that if he knew that I didn't meet her immediately he would say, ‘No, red flag.' A red flag that I obviously should've seen, but I didn't."

Bob Wieneke at the South Bend Tribune summarizes the Couric interview here.

Mike Stires at Irish Sports Daily summarizes both the interview and Couric's comments about the interview on the Dan Patrick Show here.

Eric Hansen at the South Bend Tribune reflects impressively on the Couric interview here, where he also ties together some loose ends in an account of where this strange tale stands.



Since our last set of updates on Tuesday, the 22nd, we learned that there are phone records documenting the over 500 hours Te'o spent on the phone with who he thought was "Lennay" between the time of her purported car accident and her death in September.

Offering further evidence in support of his account, Te'o shared three voicemails from "Lennay" that you can listen to here and here.

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo's lawyer confided to the New York Daily News that Tuiasosopo himself voiced "Lennay" on the phone to Te'o, though it isn't yet clear whether Tuiasosopo altered his voice naturally (he's a trained actor and vocalist) or through voice-modulating software. Te’o himself told Couric he believes the voice he heard as “Lennay” was definitely a woman. “Well, it didn’t sound like a man. It sounded like a woman,” he said.

In the same piece, Tuiasosopo's lawyer acknowledged concern that his client's actions may in fact be in violation of a California law which makes it a crime to maliciously impersonate another online (thus his emphasis on his client's lack of malice in perpetrating the hoax). Could Tuiasosopo face criminal charges for his hoax after all? Details about the law can be found here. The actual text of the law is here.

Significantly, the New York Post ran a piece disputing Ronaiah Tuiasosopo's claim that he was the voice behind Lennay Kekua. According to family members of Tino Tuiasosopo, a cousin of Ronaiah, she was in fact the voice of Lennay, something she had confided in them. From the report:

One of Ronaiah’s relatives believes [Ronaiah's lawyer] Grimes put out the story because the admitted hoaxer “is determined to take the rap.”

“She said it was OK, because she was doing better. She said she was talking to another person [and] he plays football for Notre Dame — number 5, Manti,” a source recalled.

After hearing the voicemails, one of Tino’s cousins told The Post, “There is no doubt whatsoever that it’s Tino.”

. . .

One of the Tuiasosopo sources said, “That’s the way [Tino] cries when she’s feeling sorry for herself. Its her, that’s the voice.”

Tino, in her mid-20s, lives in Pago Pago, American Samoa. She works for her dad’s construction company and is described by relatives as vivacious and flirtatious, but very involved in the church. In a profile on the social networking site BEBO from 2008, she lists “acting” as a hobby.

Tino assumed her role in the Te’o ruse after she was dumped from a long-distance relationship with another man — and there were “extraordinary similarities” between the two situations, a source said.

The man broke off the relationship in late 2011.

In an interesting approach from a more academic angle, at The Atlantic, ethnographer and scholar Ilana Gershon thoughtfully examines the influence Te'o's Samoan background may have had on his susceptibility to the hoax (the piece originally appeared in shorter form elsewhere).

Finally, Ivan Maisel at ESPN laments the public inability to recognize the real virtue we see in Te'o in an extremely compelling, empathetic reflection on the last week's response. Where others, especially on social media, can only see "an easy target," Maisel mourns, "I see a naïf who just discovered in public that the world can be mean." Cruel, in fact.


We will update this collection of stories as needed over the next few days. This story is losing steam and surely the subjects of this drama hope that it will soon fall from the front pages of sports and news sites, as do we all. Hang in there - just 55 days until spring practice.