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Manti Te'o might not be guilty of hoax, but his endorsement career has taken a hit

January 25, 2013 12:54 PM

Manti Te’o and Katie Couric have the same publicist, which goes a long way toward explaining how Couric — as opposed to, say, Oprah — landed the first on-camera interview with Te’o yesterday on her syndicated talk show, “Katie.” It was an unmitigated success for Couric, whose ratings soared to their highest levels since her show’s debut. She has been praised for her willingness to ask follow-up questions, and for the fact that she seemed tough, channeling a nation’s skepticism about the world’s weirdest supposed love-story hoax.

Couric wasn’t Oprah, so she didn’t have that grand bearing, that Oprah-esque way of suggesting that someone has Wronged The Nation and Must Be Set Right.
But then, Te’o didn’t wrong a nation so much as he confused and unwittingly entertained it. So Couric’s demeanor fit: She was more like your high school friend’s nice-but-nosy mom, who would sit you down at the kitchen table and pour you a Coke and ask you probing questions about your life. With Te’o, she couldn’t believe the answers — not because she’s a journalist with a killer instinct, but because she’s a human being with a normal amount of sense in her head.

That’s why it’s hard to sort out whether the interview was good for Te’o himself. In the long run, it might not matter. His future depends on sheer athletic meritocracy: How well he performs in the NFL draft, how well he fares as a linebacker on the field. After that, the only question that remains will be how many shoe or sport-drink companies would want to endorse a guy who was either perpetrator or victim of a famous faux romance.

After his turn on “Katie,” I’m pretty well convinced that he’s the victim. If he played a part, he would have to be a good actor, which means he would have attempted to betray some sort of anger — or at least, some sign of synapses clicking — when Couric outlined the extent of the hoax. Te’o didn’t act defensive. He didn’t seem to care. Lance Armstrong was more demonstrative. Te’o only perked up once, when he denied that he was gay. (“FAR from it,” he said.)

The performance certainly supports the official Notre Dame storyline, which is that Te’o was pure victim, incapable — for whatever reason you want to impute — of taking part in such a swindle. “Trusting” was the code word that Notre Dame’s athletic director used, though I’m not sure whether he meant “gullible” or “incapable of complex thought.” Either way, I wouldn’t mind him on my football team, but I’m not sure I’d trust his sneaker recommendations.

Too bad Zipcar isn't taking over Avis

January 2, 2013 02:15 PM

If Zipcar were buying Avis, instead of the other way around, the Cambridge-based car-sharing company's fans would be happier today than they are.

This should be good news. The car rental giant's $500 million purchase of Zipcar is great for stockholders, since Avis is offering 49 percent more per share than Zipcar's closing price Friday. In theory, the takeover is also a half-billion-dollar validation of the idea of car sharing; what once seemed like a utopian social experiment increasingly looks like a mainstream, even essential service for city dwellers who only drive every so often. It should help that Avis buys a lot of cars; Zipcar will be able to buy vehicles more cheaply and make more of them available at peak times. Avis, in turn, gains a foothold in a growing business that archrival Hertz is also pursuing aggressively.

What the car-rental giants need, though, is an infusion of the convenience and low-hassle ethos that new companies like Zipcar offer. Whatever else it is, Zipcar is a response to common frustrations with the conventional car-rental industry — the Soviet-style lines at the rental-car desk, the paperwork, the stiff gasoline charges, the so-called "reservations" that might or might not involve the actual reserving of a vehicle. It would be intriguing to watch entrepreneurs with a start-up mindset try to reinvent the car rental industry; but if the car-rental industry reinvents the likes of Zipcar, it won't be a pretty sight.

For now, Zipcar will operate separately from Avis and remain in the Boston area. The car-sharing company will go through with plans to move from Cambridge to Boston's Innovation District, news reports indicate. Yet these provisions in merger agreements tend to erode over time. Corporate convenience is a powerful force: Executives want to keep a closer eye on the new division they spent a pile of money to acquire; companies feel pressure to save on rent and travel costs. The $50 million to $70 million in "synergies" that Avis is projecting has to come from somewhere. And soon enough, what began as a hip urban start-up ends up as yet another set of cubicles at Avis headquarters in a Parsippany, N.J., office park.

It doesn't help that Avis has a long history of mergers and acquisitions that serve no obvious business purpose; the company itself has been bought and sold more than a dozen times, often to ill effect. Customers and transportation planners alike should hope Zipcar fares better.

Twitter: @danteramos

ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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