The gist of the on-camera interview given by Manti Te’o to Katie Couric seems to be the same as the primary content of the off-camera interview given by Te’o to ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap. But the result is definitely being sold differently.
Schaap, when sharing the information and perceptions from his 2.5-hour sit-down with Te’o, opened by vouching for the player’s credibility. Eventually, Schaap got around to the fact that Te’o lied to his father about meeting his fake dead girlfriend. In contrast, the primary takeaway of Couric’s Te’o interview, as demonstrated by a segment included in Wednesday’s Good Morning America and characterized by the Associated Press, was that Te’o lied.
That’s the headline, ironically appearing now on ESPN.com: “Manti Te’o tells Katie Couric he lied.”
The fact that Schaap’s interview didn’t create the same headline tells us all we need to know about the back-room back-scratching that resulted in ESPN getting to talk to Te’o away from cameras before he submitted to a televised interview with Couric, Oprah, or Dr. Phil. (According to the New York Times, those were the three finalists for the first televised TV interview, which is definitely better than having the first non-televised TV interview.)
In the end, it appears that the Te’o camp played ESPN, and that everyone lost. Per the New York Times, the initial tip to ESPN came from Te’o's agent, and the facts support a reasonable inference that ESPN believed it was more likely to get a Te’o interview if ESPN waited until having quotes from Te’o before reporting the story, even if those quotes weren’t given on camera. So ESPN tapped the brakes for the sake of a “get,” creating an opportunity for Deadspin to beat Bristol to the punch and to tell the story first, telling it in a way that made Te’o look worse than if ESPN had broken the news. Then, ESPN treated Te’o delicately, asking him the right questions so that Bobby Knight couldn’t take any more shots at Schaap, but still burying the lede within a lengthy transcript and on-air monologue from the interviewer.
The full Couric interview with Te’o will be televised on Thursday. Which means that I now have to figure out exactly where to find it on my cable system.