‘Well, either you’re the most naive person on the planet or this is the saddest story I think ever written’

Not to say it didn’t happen, but . . .

When ESPN broke into programming late last Friday to announce that reporter Jeremy Schaap had secured a 2 ½ -hour visit with former Notre Dame linebacker and presumed hoax victim Manti Te’o in Florida, but then agree to ground rules that there’s be no cameras or audio recording, can we be 100 percent sure that the two even met?

Could ESPN have Photoshopped those pictures released of Schaap sitting at some lunchroom table with Te’o?

Maybe the only thing that is transparent in Te’o’s decision to pre-tape an interview with Katie Couric, then have it air Thursday afternoon after some video and other transcriptions were released to the media beforehand is that this has all the earmarks of being orchestrated by well-trained publicist.

One, in fact, who works for both Couric and Te’o.

Publicist Matthew Hiltzik told CNN on Thursday afternoon that he  takes issue with those who have called Te’o a liar about his role in perpetuating the story of the dead girlfriend beyond the moment when he realized he had been played.

Lance Armstrong is a liar; Manti Te’o made one big mistake —  not telling his father the truth,” Hiltzik said, referring to a statement his father made in saying Te’o and the fictional Lennay Kekua had met in person.

Hiltzik also said it would have been “crazy and stupid and short-sighted” for Te’o to tell reporters that Kekua didn’t exist in interviews given before the BCS title game earlier this month because he was still sorting out the details.

So what did Te’o have to say for himself when giving the opportunity?

We sort of lost interest after hearing Couric’s first question: “What have the last few weeks been like for you?” Something caught our attention again when she asked whether he “was the most naive person on the planet, or this is the saddest story ever written.”

We choose both.

Couric had already gone off the rails 20 minutes in when she decided to ask Te’o if he was gay.

“No, far from it,” he said. “Faaaar from it.”

The audience laughed nervously. It sparked a #farfromgay Twitter feed that may have turned any kind sympathy toward Te’o into questions about whether he had come off as somewhat homophobic.

Nice help with the damage control, Katie.

Hey, just let us know when anyone gets around to a live interview with alleged perp Ronaiah Tuiasosopo – a name Couric couldn’t even pronounce during the Te’o talk.

Maybe Tuiasosopo’s publicist can at least get a phonetic  pronunciation guide delivered to Couric if she gets the call to stumble through this all again.

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