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.