Manti Te'o's full sit-down with Katie Couric will air tomorrow, but highlights of the interview were shown on today's Good Morning America. (You can view some of it here.) Te'o's story seems similar in substance to the one he gave in his non-televised, late-night interview with Jeremy Schaap, with a little more detail, and much stronger language. Whereas last week Te'o said he "tailored" his stories and "catered" to what the media wanted, this time he says he flat-out lied. "Briefly." For six weeks.
Te'o maintains he was the victim of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo's hoax, and it was only in early December, two days before the Heisman ceremony, that he found out he had been duped. While doing press for the event, and even in the weeks following, Te'o continued to tell the story of Lennay Kekua's death and how he was emotionally affected by it. He told Couric he kept the lie going because he didn't know what else to do.
"Katie, put yourself in my situation. I, my whole world told me that she died on Sept. 12. Everybody knew that. This girl, who I committed myself to, died on Sept. 12," Te'o said.
"Now I get a phone call on Dec. 6, saying that she's alive and then I'm going be put on national TV two days later. And to ask me about the same question. You know, what would you do?" Te'o said.
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The interview is a huge get for Katie Couric, who the Te'o family chose over Oprah and Dr. Phil for the exclusive. But not, apparently over ESPN. As the Times reported yesterday, it was ESPN's insistence on an on-camera sit-down with Te'o that had them sitting on the Lennay Kekua hoax when we exposed it last week. Of course, ESPN would eventually settle for a print-only interview.
As Mike Florio writes, ESPN's handling of the story has become the story as a result of the Te'o camp's extraordinary efforts to control the narrative. The very first hint of a hoax came from Te'o's agent, CAA's Tom Condon, who went to a sympathetic ESPN with the tip even before we caught wind of it. Now the mess is bookended with an interview with Katie Couric, who shares a publicist with Te'o, damage-control specialist Matthew Hiltzik. In between was a good solid week of everyone pretending they'd no longer take athletes' carefully administered stories at face value, but I guess that's over.