Meet the College Senior Who Helped Expose the Manti Te'o Hoax
By now, the bizarre tale of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend has become a national sensation. Deadspin landed the amazing scoop, and in the process, trumped the dozens of media outlets—including the Globe—that had failed to verify that Te’o’s girlfriend, who supposedly died of cancer after being in a car crash, even existed.
Co-written by Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey, the story was published Wednesday afternoon. As of Thursday night, it had amassed 3.5 million pageviews. One more amazing part of all this: Dickey, a 2009 Phillips Academy grad, is a senior at Columbia University.
“Time balance? What? Oh, right: I’m on winter break until Tuesday,” Dickey said in an email. “It’s been all-Deadspin, all the time for a month or so now. But sometimes the pendulum swings the other way. Ask my editors what it was like dealing with me when I was trying to crank out 3,000 words about The Age of Innocence. This has been a great balance for me—I’ve encountered so much fine literature!—but, yeah, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward just a little to graduation.”
This week, he took time out from his winter break to answer a few questions about his work on the Te’o story.
Is this the fastest spreading Deadspin story ever? And did you expect interest to be so high?
I don’t know if this is bigger than Brett Favre’s penis. (Although I suppose so much is bigger than Brett Favre’s penis.) This one at least people could click on at work, though. I knew this would do well—both because of the popular interest in Catfishing nowadays, and because of how widely covered Te’o’s story was—but the non-sports media interest has gobsmacked me.
Was the reporting process as jaw-droppingly bizarre as I imagine it was? I mean, reading it was one thing. I can’t even fathom investigating it myself.
Yes. It was bizarre. That [former NFL quarterback] Marques Tuiasosopo was somehow connected to this was only fitting. We wound up turning over rocks we never expected to turn over. But Tim Burke is so unbelievably skilled with social media that he tracked lots of people down.
From start to finish, how long did it take to complete this thing?
You wanna hear something crazy? We got the tip Friday afternoon. It’s in our group chat logs. “4:35 PM Jack D. That Teo tip is fascinating. Anyone got dibs?” So [Deadspin editor-in-chief] Tommy Craggs and Burke helped me research on Friday afternoon, and then Tim and I spent all weekend, and all of Monday and most of Tuesday, looking into the mystery of this story. [Writers] Dom Cosentino and Tom Ley made a bunch of calls then too. Then Craggs and [managing editor] Tom Scocca edited the thing on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, and then we were basically ready to go. I don’t know if anyone besides Deadspin could have turned it around like that.
I realize it’s hazy at this point, and I know both he and Notre Dame claim he’s the victim, but do you think Te’o was in on the hoax?
Don’t know if Te’o was in on the hoax. It stretches credibility to hear that a smart young man, surrounded by smart people invested in his future, could get duped the way he’s said he was duped. But I suppose it’s possible. We’re all eagerly awaiting what Te’o says when he finally breaks his silence. His account of things—they were speaking on the phone every night, for eight hours—would have left him with a paper trail. If he produces that paper trail, he’ll be able to convince people that he wasn’t in on it. Otherwise? He’s in some trouble.
What the hell is going to happen next? I feel like sooner rather than later he’ll have to address the inconsistencies in his story, or else risk being a “distraction” to the NFL team that drafts him.
It’s especially tough for Te’o. So much of his appeal is character, leadership. And that has taken a hit with this news. Again, a lot depends on what he can present to the press, and how quickly he can do that.
One more question: Do you guys get any kind of pageview bonus for the story?
There’s a monthly traffic bonus, yeah, and one hopes it’ll be sizable! And Craggs would then split it up among the entire staff. But we’re excited to have the extra eyeballs on the site regardless of the potential financial rewards.