When Deadspin reported that Manti Te'o's deceased girlfriend never existed, some high profile sports journalists scrambled to quickly offer an explanation for why they wrote the emotional story of his loss without first confirming she was real.
No such mea culpa took place last week when it was reported that Tia Norfleet's record as a racecar driver was almost equally nonexistent. The Washington Post, ESPN, the Sporting News, Huffington Post and numerous other newspapers and web sites had all hailed Norfleet, who billed herself as the first African-American female licensed to race in Nascar.
Turns out Norfleet had raced only one lap in her entire Nascar career, and the license she boasted about was simply bought, not earned through racing.
There haven't been any explanations from writers and editors this time about why
the misinformation from her press releases was never checked or challenged before it was written verbatim. And a quick google search shows many of the incorrect stories on Norfleet over the last two years weren't even pulled from the archives or at minimum amended. So in cased you missed it, you can still read all about Norfleet's breakthrough racing career. Even if most of it isn't true.
Why the double-standard? Why was one story an egregious failure of the media that was quickly corrected, and the other a non-event?
In part, it's because Norfleet isn't as famous as Te'o. Her story wasn't played so prominently, didn't matter as much and therefore, perhaps, didn't demand an apology or explanation.
And in truth, an imaginary girlfriend is far more bizarre and newsworthy nationally than anything Norfleet ever said or didn't do.
But maybe, too, the reality is that sports journalism isn't always journalism anymore. Many of the stories about Norfleet appeared to be nothing more than rewrites of what had been erroneously reported before. Too many of us have become just like the content providers, forced to feed the internet new material as often as we can to generate clicks and likes and retweets without taking the time, or even having the time, to make sure the material is accurate. The assumption is that somebody must have checked it along the way.
And if it's wrong? Sports Illustrated, which used to supply CNN's sports content, made significant effort to explain its reporting in the Te'o case. But now CNN gets its sports coverage from Bleacher Report, a content provider that has three stories about Norfleet's ascending racing career in its archives including one (mostly) pictorial on how "hot" she is, but nothing acknowledging revelations she embellished her record.
That's CNN.com these days.
In retrospect, the Te'o story was handled a bit old-school. Maybe the Norfleet reaction is closer to the rule in sports journalism today.
If so, that says as much about the media as it does about Te'o and Tia.