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Q&A with St. Petersburg man who helped break story of Manti Te'o's fictional girlfriend

Manti Te’o

Manti Te’o

Wednesday's huge revelation from Deadspin.com — that the sad story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o's girlfriend dying of leukemia in September was a huge hoax and that she never existed — was co-written by St. Petersburg resident Timothy Burke, who has been an editor at Deadspin since October 2011 and had spent much of the previous five days reporting the story with Deadspin writer Jack Dickey, who is a student at Columbia.

Burke, 34, is working on a doctorate in communications from USF, he's on Twitter at @bubbaprog and he also runs a blog, 30fps.mocksession.com, that has a cult following for its archive of screengrabs and video captures from TV. After a Skype appearance on CNN to speak with Anderson Cooper about the story on Wednesday night, he talked to the Times about his story.

It must be a strange and still proud acknowledgement, to see your story rolling along the ticker on ESPN as great publicity for Deadspin.

It's just bizarre to me. We had ESPN on downstairs all night, and every time I go down there, in the corner, "BREAKING NEWS: Manti Te'o's dead girlfriend did not exist." What a bizarre statement. Think about how crazy that is. That's so weird to me.

Take me back as much as you can to how this started, and all the reporting that led to this story.

We got an anonymous e-mail Friday that said, "Hey, there's something sketchy about Manti Te'o's girlfriend. You should check it out." I was actually out with (wife) Lynn somewhere in western Hillsborough County at an orange grove at the time. Both Jack Dickey and our editor-in-chief, Tommy Craggs, were messaging me frantically. "Can you check in on this?'

What do you do when you're looking for information?

To start, you go to Google. We googled "Lennay" and you find Manti Te'o's dead girlfriend. Nothing about her from before she was dead. That's a little strange. We went into, "Does she exist?" Did she go to Stanford? We called Stanford, got copies of their yearbooks, knew she wasn't a graduate, finally got word she had never attended. Does this person exist in any Social Security records? No. The Associated Press said she was buried in Carson, Calif., so we called every mortuary and funeral home in Carson. Any word? No. It just continued to go from there. Every point we looked for evidence that she existed, there was none.

Notre Dame came out Wednesday night very much in defense of Te'o, saying he was the victim of a hoax and not complicit at all, though there certainly seem to be lies from him and family members in terms of him saying he had met a girlfriend when he had a relationship exclusively online and by phone. What do you make of that?

I think they did Manti Te'o a huge disservice, as I think him releasing a statement did himself a disservice. This is a situation where nothing you can say is going to improve your situation. Every time you give a reaction, it keeps the news cycle focused on the embarrassing story. I think it would be better for Te'o if he'd come out and said, "Yeah, I set it up to win the Heisman." Whether he did or not, for his professional career, it would have been better for him to show he was cunning and clever and smart. He's a middle linebacker who has to show he can be cold and calculating. Instead, he told everyone he was a patsy. If I'm an NFL GM, that doesn't sound good to me. I would not have published any response, let it go away.

For more of the interview, visit Greg Auman's blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls.

Q&A with St. Petersburg man who helped break story of Manti Te'o's fictional girlfriend 01/16/13 [Last modified: Thursday, January 17, 2013 8:22am]
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