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Doug Robinson: Lumping Manti Te'o with Lance Armstrong is unfair

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 5 2013 10:25 p.m. MST

In this photo taken on Jan. 22, 2013 and released by ABC Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, right, speaking with host Katie Couric during an interview for "Katie," in New York. Te'o has told Couric that he briefly lied about his online girlfriend after discovering she didn't exist, while maintaining that he had no part in creating the hoax. The interview will air on Thursday, Jan. 24.

Disney-ABC, Lorenzo Bevilaqua, Associated Press

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Now that the Manti Te'o business is fading away — at least until it is revived as a movie or an afternoon soap opera or both — there is just one more question:

Why so much outrage and attention?

The stories in newspapers and magazines around the country.

The endless buzz on the Internet and talk shows, not to mention at the water cooler.

The confessional interview with Katie Couric (what, not Reverend Oprah?).

The interview with Dr. Phil.

(We might just have a little too much time on our hands.)

It was typical herd journalism and never more off base than when Te'o's story was paired up with Lance Armstrong's simply because Armstrong made his confession at the same time the Te'o story broke.

That was quite a stretch. Armstrong and Te'o have almost nothing in common. They both lied, but one was criminal and earned tens of millions of dollars fraudulently and was mean and vindictive during 15 years of carefully calculated deception; the other was a naive kid who apparently lied for a time because he had been badly fooled and embarrassed.

Armstrong knew what he was saying was untrue; Te'o originally thought what he was saying was true.

There's a big difference.

Armstrong hurt rivals, family, friends, journalists, business partners, sponsors, insurance companies and an entire sport with his lies.

Whom did Te'o hurt?

Well, a few sponsors bought leis to hand out at a football game as a gesture to Te'o on the occasion of his "girlfriend's" "death." That's about it.

He was fooled and then the public was fooled.

It turned out Te'o was a victim. If he was duped, so was the media.

If the Big Man on Campus wants to have an online girlfriend he never meets, he's a little strange, but who is he hurting besides himself? It's the age we live in. His generation doesn't talk to one another; they text and Facebook (it can be used as a verb now) and Twitter.

No wonder the story had the shelf life of bananas.

In the end, how could you not feel empathy for Te'o?

First he learns that he was duped. His online "girlfriend" not only didn't die, she never existed.

It gets worse. His "girlfriend" turns out to be a man.

It gets worse. He's a famous football player and every word out of his mouth has been recorded by ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CNN and every major newspaper in the country.

It would be bad enough if he had to live with the embarrassment of the hoax and he was the only one who knew about it. But everyone in the country knew about it. If any other college student had done the same thing, he only had to endure his own private humiliation. It wouldn't be broadcast on cable TV and turned into a magazine feature. He wouldn't be asked to come on national TV and explain himself.

Imagine Te'o's panic the instant he realized the full implications of his predicament.

Wouldn't you want to catch the first rocket to another planet? Or deny it and hope it blows over?

It's another reflection of how out of whack our celebrity culture is. The media rushes to make heroes and the public eagerly embraces them. It's a formula that's not working too well lately. Armstrong. Ray Lewis. Joe Paterno. Te'o.

But it's unfair to lump Te'o in with the others.

email: drob@desnews.com

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