Manti Te'o's Interview with Katie Couric: What We Can and Can't Believe

Dan Levy@danlevythinksNational Lead WriterJanuary 24, 2013

Somewhere inside the Manti Te'o saga lies the truth. In this insane story of he said-(s)he said-she's dead is an actual tale of what happened between Te'o, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and the fake dead woman named Lennay Kekua that will forever link them together. 

At one point in Te'o's hour-long television interview with Katie Couric, the veteran journalist-turned-afternoon-talker called Te'o out for either being involved in this elaborate hoax or, essentially, being the dumbest person on the planet.

At times during the interview, Te'o came off as both, so it's impossible to know anything more than we did going into the interview. Some of his answers were direct, while others were completely and utterly implausible.

That's exactly what this saga has been from the start: utterly implausible. 

So much information has come out since Deadspin broke the story of Kekua being a hoax that it's hard to know what we are supposed to believe, what many of us do believe and what's the actual, provable truth.

Fact is, there hasn't been much provable truth to come out yet, and Te'o's interview with Couric did little to change that.

Tuiasosopo reportedly admitted to friends he was behind the hoax just days before his lawyer told the New York Daily News he was the actual voice of Kekua. But that's not entirely provable, as much as we're left taking the word of a man who we believe to be a severely troubled individual.

In advance of her interview with Te'o, Couric released audio recordings that Te'o claims are voicemails from Kekua. Te'o's response was direct: "Doesn't it sound like a girl?"

When pressed about it, he replied with puzzlement:

It didn't sound like a man. It sounded like a woman. If he somehow made that voice, that's incredible talent to do that. Especially every single day.

Couric did not ask why someone would ever save an email of his girlfriend crying all this time—especially after supposedly finding out she wasn't dead in December, or real in January. That may have been something worth asking.

(Note: We have an email in to Couric's team to ascertain if the audio files were extracted directly from Te'o's phone or if they were provided via email, jump drive or other digital method of sharing.)

It's impossible to know what to believe, but the story Te'o wants us to accept seems the least believable of anything being presented. Te'o is either completely involved in this hoax or one of the most gullible people on the planet. 

Here is an attempt to break down some of Te'o's answers to Couric, in order of unbelievability.

Flat-Out Lies

When asked if he helped orchestrate this hoax, Te'o replied directly, but told one massive lie in the process of trying to tell the truth. 

No. I did not. I think what people don't realize is that the same day that everybody else found out about this situation, I found out.

I got the call on December 6th saying she was alive. From December 6th to January 16th, my whole reality was that she was dead and now she's alive. I didn't know it was just somebody's prank.

ESPN has admitted to having the story days before Deadspin posted it, and the New York Times reported that ESPN got its story from Te'o's agent. If Te'o found out on January 16, he needs a new agent.

Perhaps Te'o was fudging dates for effect, but given the line of questioning and the circumstances of the interview, it would have made sense for him to get his facts straight beforehand.

The biggest lie, which Couric let dangle before moving on, was Te'o's interaction with Kekua on her trip to Hawaii. 

"I asked my dad if I could go sleep over one of my friend's houses and while I'm sleeping over we made plans. [I said] 'okay dad I'm going to try to make plans to meet up with her.' That night when I brought it up [to Lennay], 'oh, my brothers are using my car.' 

"Since she's not from Hawaii I know she didn't have multiple cars. They had one car, a rental car. And she said, 'they have it, I'm over at the hotel and I can't go anywhere, can you come over here?'

"It's one of those things where it didn't happen."

You of those things.

This is an unacceptable answer and Couric did a disservice to the viewers by allowing Te'o to change the topic back to lying to his father about seeing her, not the fact that he doesn't have any viable answer for not seeing her at all.

If, at that point in the story, Te'o believed Kekua was alive, why didn't he drive to the hotel to see her? How long was she staying in Hawaii, and why did he make zero effort to see her over the course of her trip?

If her brothers were there and took the car, why didn't they offer to drop her off? Why didn't Te'o borrow his dad's car or ask the friend he was staying with to drive him?

Why didn't Te'o make plans to see her in the morning for breakfast? HOW WERE NONE OF THESE FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS ASKED!?!?

Poorly Coached Double-Speak & Other Untruths

Couric pressed Te'o on why he didn't travel to see Lennay when he was in San Diego and Lennay was in a hospital Los Angeles, and Te'o replied that he didn't want to "test" his parents by asking if he could extend his stay in California before coming home to Hawaii.

Minutes later, when asked why he would spend every night on the phone with Kekua, Te'o replied:

It goes back to what my parents taught me, to always be there for people when they need help. 

Early in the interview, Couric asked why Te'o misled so many people after finding out the truth, suggesting he perpetuated the lie for his own gain. He replied:

I can see that, for that...for people feeling they're misled, for that I'm sorry. I wasn't as forthcoming about it, but I didn't lie. I was never asked, 'Did you see her in person?'

He did lie. He lied. He may have lied to protect himself from further embarrassment, but he did lie.

Later in the interview, Couric brought up how the two never saw each other, even online. Couric first asked about why he never saw her despite trying to chat with her via Facetime, and then she asked if Te'o was that technologically challenged to not suspect something was fishy about never having seen her face. Te'o said:

I saw a black screen, I was like 'I don't know what's wrong with your camera, but I can't see you.' She said she could see me and her. I wasn't paying enough attention I guess.

The answer was fine, until the end. At some point, if her phone consistently isn't working, she would probably go get a new phone, especially if her boyfriend was halfway across the country. That, or maybe one of them would suggest Skype or Google Talk or one of the many other ways people can see each other these days. "I wasn't paying enough attention" really isn't a good enough answer. 

He certainly wasn't paying enough attention the day Kekua came out of her coma, telling Couric about the experience on the phone as listening to her breathing before she suddenly woke up. Per Te'o, it felt real.

It was very real, Katie, it was very, very real.

 Given what we all know now, that line is pretty hilarious, actually.

What Seems Like the Truth

I think the biggest lie that I'm sorry for is the lie that I told my dad.

Clearly he has a close relationship with his parents who are in a tough spot and will obviously defend their son no matter what he did. Lying to his father opened Te'o up to more scrutiny than anything else, as it was his father who explained about Kekua's trip to Hawaii to the press, the untruth that implicates Te'o's involvement in this hoax the most.

When asked if he was gay and Kekua is an elaborate cover-up, Te'o was obnoxiously defiant:

No (laughs). Far from it. Faaar from it.

It's easy to joke that he was overcompensating with his response, and, frankly, he might be. But his sexual preference is none of our business, even if it's the backbone for why he and Tuiasosopo conspired to create Kekua in the first place.

If he is, in fact, gay, it's Te'o's choice to announce that when he wants. If this was a cover-up, it's horrible to have put us all through this (especially his family), but until he admits that or other proof comes out, it's only fair to take him at his jockcentric word.

What I went through was real. The feelings, the pain, the sorrow, that was all real. That's something I can't fake.

This seemed believable as well. Let's not forget the kid did lose his grandmother. Even if you think he was part of this entire hoax, losing a grandmother would be really hard to fake. And let's all agree for a second that what he's saying about his relationship with Kekua is what he thought to be the truth, he would have been very upset. That doesn't change how he handled things once he found out the truth, but at the time, back in September, it stands to reason (if you believe the story) that he would have experienced real sorrow.

I felt overwhelmed a lot by this whole circus of events.

I did not know who to turn to, I did not know who to tell. I did not know who to trust. It was a big thing for me and I was scared. That's the truth. I was scared and I didn't know what to do.

Both of those quotes, given at different times in the interview, seem like the truth, no matter what the true circumstances of the relationship really were.

The greatest job in any child's life is to make your parents proud. The greatest pain is to know they are experiencing pain because of you.

No matter what you think of the kid, and no matter how horrible the interview was with Couric—his handlers were right that he would be better off camera for his interview with ESPN because he truly could not have been worse on camera than he was—the man does love his family.

It's obvious he feels as horrible for his parents as he should.


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