Couric, the former “CBS Evening News” anchor and NBC “Today Show” personality, snagged the first on-camera interview with Te’o, who was hoping to shed more light on the fake-girlfriend hoax that has enraptured sports fans as he prepares for the NFL Draft.
Te’o and his parents sat down with Couric for her show “Katie,” with the full interview airing Thursday at 3 p.m. eastern time. Details of the program can be learned on the show’s official website here.
Last week, Deadspin published a report that proved the girlfriend Te’o claimed died, Lennay Kekua, did not exist. Kekua's death, along with the death of his grandmother in the same week, helped to create an inspirational narrative for the 21-year-old’s final season at Notre Dame. Te’o led the Fighting Irish to the BCS National Championship game, and placed second in voting for the Heisman Trophy.
The New York Daily News revealed on Thursday that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo masterminded the hoax and even impersonated Kekua’s voice in hours upon hours of phone calls with Te’o.
Couric said she listened to voicemails left by Kekua with Te’o, and she agreed it sounded like a woman’s voice. Couric also gave her two cents on whether or not she believed Te’o’s claims that he was a victim, and played no part in the hoax.
“I don’t think he concocted this hoax,” Couric said. “I think he was honest in his shortcomings. He conceded he misled people after he knew something was terribly wrong.”
Te’o has said he learned of the ruse on Dec. 6 when a person claiming to be Kekua, who he believed to have died from cancer in September, called him and said she had faked her death to hide from drug dealers.
Couric also said Te’o had a phone conversation with Tuiasosopo on Jan. 16. During that call, Tuiasosopo apologized but also said he was trying to help Te’o.
Patrick asked if the Te’o family would have come forward with the story had it not been for Deadspin’s investigation, and Couric said she did not ask that question but wished she had.
“I think he’s a very naïve, very young 21-year-old, very dependent on his family,” Couric said. "I think also I have to say from what I gather, the person behind this was extraordinarily manipulative, [and] really weirdly intelligent in how this was conducted.”
Couric said she also recently watched “Catfish,” the documentary that many have compared to Te’o’s hoax, and said the similarities are striking.
“You can kind of imagine how this could happen,” Couric said.