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How Katie Couric landed the Manti Te'o exclusive

January 23, 2013|By Patrick Kevin Day
(Lorenzo Bevilaqua / ABC )

This week, Notre Dame football player Manti Te'o sat down for his first on-camera interview to discuss the controversy surrounding his girlfriend hoax. But he wasn't sitting across from Oprah Winfrey, the current queen of the sports world exclusive. He was talking to Katie Couric.

So how did Couric manage to beat out Winfrey for the juicy get? After all, Winfrey just snagged international coverage and a reported audience of 28 million worldwide for her exclusive two-part sit-down with disgraced cycling star Lance Armstrong.

Some reports have suggested that the key factor was high-powered publicist and crisis management expert Matthew Hiltzik, who has had Couric as a client for seven and a half years and has been representing Te'o since just after the story of his girlfriend hoax broke in early January.

However, a person close to the situation denied that both parties having the same representation was the deciding factor. Instead, they said that the audience reach from Couric's employer, ABC News, and its corporate parent, the Walt Disney Co., made her the best choice.

The interview with Couric, which was taped Tuesday, was featured on "Good Morning America" Wednesday morning and will be on "World News Tonight" and "Nightline" Wednesday night, in addition to Couric's daytime talk show, "Katie," on Thursday.

Online, the interview was featured on both ABC News' website and Yahoo! (which have an online partnership and have a reported 85 million unique users a month), as well as ESPN.com, which is 80% owned by Disney. Te'o's only other interview since the story broke was with ESPN.com, which had been investigating the Te'o girlfriend story before Deadspin broke it earlier this month.

In fact, it may have been the media hoopla surrounding Winfrey's Armstrong interview that also hurt her, as the Te'o interview occurred right on the heels of the Armstrong event and risked being overshadowed.

In the Couric interview, Te'o admits that he briefly lied to the media about the existence of his supposed girlfriend, even after he had learned that she was not actually a real person. The girl, who he had never met in person, supposedly died of cancer on Sept. 12.

But on Dec. 6 he learned that she had never really existed, and was a hoax allegedly perpetrated by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, an Antelope Valley man who used a classmate's pictures to represent the woman "Lennay Kekua." Two days later, Te'o was on TV discussing his placing as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and mentioned the girlfriend.

"Katie, put yourself in my situation. I, my whole world told me that she died on Sept. 12. Everybody knew that. This girl, who I committed myself to, died on Sept. 12," Te'o told Couric in the interview. "Now I get a phone call on Dec. 6, saying that she's alive and then I'm going be put on national TV two days later. And to ask me about the same question. You know, what would you do?"

When reached for comment on the deal, Hiltzik deferred to a quote Te'o's mother, Ottilia Te'o, gave to the media, in which she said, "I’ve watched Katie on television, and she represents somebody that I felt I could trust and share our story with. We have a comfort level with her."

ALSO:

Manti Te'o says he lied after learning girlfriend didn't exist

Lance Armstrong reveals his most humbling moment to Oprah

Oprah's Lance Armstrong interview seen by 28 million worldwide 


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