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January 17, 2013

Media buys into tale of athlete's tragic love

(Continued)

Reporters, he said, tend to "push forward" on a story, assuming that what has already been reported is established fact. But errors can result from such assumptions.

"It comes from journalists not checking things for themselves," Rosenstiel said. "The lesson here is 'look inside the freezer.' Journalists shouldn't be taking [a source's] word if there is some way to verify it for themselves."

ESPN reporter Gene Wojciechowski said in an interview with the network Wednesday that certain elements of the Te'o-Kekua story troubled him when he interviewed the player in early October. He said that he could not find any record of an obituary for Kekua and that Te'o had told him her family did not want to be contacted when Wojciechowski asked for photographs of her.

"In retrospect, you can see where some of those things weren't adding up to make sense," he said. "It's easy to say now, but at the time it never enters your mind that somebody was involved in that kind of hoax. We wanted to believe it so much."

Dozens of news outlets reported, often in great detail, about Kekua and Te'o, particularly the coincidental tragedy of her death occurring on the same day that Te'o's grandmother died of cancer. But Deadspin reported that it could not confirm details of her existence, such as her death notice or her alleged graduation from Stanford University.

Te'o's role is unclear. At one point in October, he told ESPN that Kekua was "the most beautiful girl I've ever met," though "met" could have referred to an online-only relationship.

Among other news outlets, Sports Illustrated described how Te'o would speak on the phone with Kekua as she lay in her hospital bed and how she would perk up at the sound of his voice. The conversations went on for so long, the magazine reported, that Te'o would often wake up in the morning with Kekua asleep on the other end of the line.

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