Katie Couric’s big “get” with Manti Te’o aired Thursday, and just to get the obvious out of the way, yes, it actually really honest and truly happened, and no, he can’t see Russia from his house.
As for sorting out truth from reality, that will have to wait for another day.
That’s not to say Couric didn’t ask many of the questions everyone wanted to hear on “Katie,” her syndicated show. But she left out a couple of very important ones, and failed to disclose the fact she and the Notre Dame football star at the center of the girlfriend-doesn’t-exist controversy share the same publicist, which seems like a small thing, but nevertheless counts as a significant oversight.
Given how much of Te’o’s story strains credibility, Couric was dead on when she asked, “Didn’t you think that was a little weird?” and, later, in regard to his Heisman Trophy hopes and all the attention coming his way, “This story was working for you.” She also asked if Te’o had concocted a fake girlfriend to hide being gay (he insisted he isn’t), which, given the stay-in-the-closet mentality of team sports, has been raised in various quarters.
So where did Couric slip up? By not going after the institutions in all this which are the most interesting — starting with Notre Dame. What did Te’o tell his coaches and school officials, and when did they know it? What did they counsel him to do? Was the school worried about being embarrassed, especially after (presumably) helping promote his sob story?
Moreover, what about the news outlets who bought it all hook, line and sinker? Couric aired a taped piece to open the show, but that made virtually no mention of how gullible sports journalists had been in perpetuating the lie, whoever was behind it.
Granted, this was daytime TV, not ABC News (or even ESPN), but if Te’o really is just a college kid who got duped and scared — destined to become a punch line for as long as the story lasts — what about the university? College football is a huge business, and the school was pursuing a national championship. Did they worry about raining on their parade, before Alabama got around to raining on it for them?
While some of her journalistic chops were on display, Couric tailored the interview to the venue. Yes, she got everyone to cry, but beyond what did you know, it was more about, “How did you feel?”
Couric had her shot at one of broadcast journalism’s premiere chairs when she anchored “The CBS Evening News,” but she’s playing a different game now. And from that perspective, while her interview advanced the Te’o story, it also underscored how TV journalism has been thrown for a loss.