South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen Still Trusts Manti Te’o

January 18, 2013 – 7:45 am by Brad Gagnon

As details continue to emerge in the Manti Te’o saga, the one question that many of us continue to ask is how it took this long for the media and the public to discover that Te’o's dead girlfriend was actually a fake. One of the reporters who wrote extensively about Te’o and the story of his girlfriend’s “death” continues to try to track down details while wondering if he missed something or failed to do his due diligence earlier in the year.

Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune joined Dan Dakich on 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis to discuss the Manti Te’o saga, his verification process for the stories he wrote regarding the death of Te’o's “girlfriend,” and the evolution of the story in general. He also said he thinks Te’o should break his silence and shared his opinion on the school standing behind Te’o.

On if there’s any documentation of Te’o himself saying he met Lennay Kekua:

“Not himself. What I quoted was his dad in my story, who I thought was a credible source. It wasn’t the first time we had spoken and that was part of about a two-hour interview when we talked about lots of things regarding Manti, when he was in town for the Stanford game in October. But I had found Brian to be credible. I still do, until somebody shows me differently, because I feel like I don’t have every piece to this puzzle yet.”

On if he ever attempted to verify Kekua’s death:

“I have not looked for anybody’s death certificate in the 30 years I’ve been a sports writer. Maybe when I get through this and I get to the end of this, I’m going to take a look at how I covered the story and see if I need to make changes in the way I went about doing things. What I did do, Dan, was I reached out — when I heard about the grandmother — I reached out to one of Manti’s best friends and teammates’ mom … in Hawaii. And I said, ‘I understand Manti’s grandma passed. Can you confirm that and can you give me her name so that I can put that in the story?’ … Then I emailed Manti’s father and I said, ‘I understand there’s a friend or a girlfriend.’ I was trying to get to the bottom of it that day. And I said, ‘Can you confirm that this person passed and kind of help me understand who this was to Manti?’ And he did confirm it. And so these were two sources that I believed in, that I had not been dealing with for the first time. I think there’s people that maybe expected me and some other people in the media to go [dig] up a corpse. I did try to, at some point, Google her obituary and couldn’t find it. And yet I’ve done that with friends’ parents in the past and I’ve not been able to find their’s either. So I figured it was operator error on my part. I think, Dan, that when you’re in our business, that you learn to trust people, and Manti Te’o was a guy I’d interviewed dozens of times, spent time with at the homeless center, saw him three-dimensionally outside of football. And he’s a guy that I trusted, and I guess to a certain extent still do trust. Until I get the final picture, I still do trust him. And maybe I’m the naive one in this picture but you have to rely on sources.”

On new information and the evolution of the story:

“I’ve made some calls today and I’ve been able to get some things confirmed off the record, that I can’t print yet, that help me understand some of the loops that I couldn’t close yesterday. So it’s an ongoing story.”

On if he thinks Te’o should speak up:

“I think he should. I think it will fill in the holes. I think it will close the loops and what people think. I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t speak.”

On Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick defending Te’o adamantly:

“He went all in last night. That tells me something. Now he’s either gonna have egg on his face or he’s gonna be right. And there’s more information that’s gonna come out, I’m sure in the next 24 hours, so I’m really curious to see where all this is going.”

Listen to Eric Hansen on 1090 The Fan here (starts at 4:25)

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