The hoax was all in good humor. After Smith traced the press releases back to Newburger and Dannenbaum, they confessed and wrote their last story: PTC had cancelled its remaining games when Chung and several other players flunked their exams and were declared ineligible.
Seventy-one years later, the tale of Johnny Chung seems weirdly familiar in light of the newly exposed hoax about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o's supposed girlfriend. According to Deadspin, a 22-year old former high school player and friend of Te'o, Ronaiah Tulasosopo, borrowed pictures from a woman he knew, passed her off as Te'o's doomed girlfriend Lennay Kekua, and, via Twitter and Facebook, created a tragic love story for the Notre Dame star that first the University, then the South Bend Tribune, then Sports Illustrated, and then the mainstream press bought into.
What was the degree of Te'o's involvement? Whether he helped dream up the Kekua's existence or not, he knowingly perpetrated it, telling reporters how they met (at a 2009 Stanford-Notre Dame football game), that she was a student at Stanford, and, finally, of her death from leukemia, all of which have turned out to be fictitious. It is one thing to believe that Te'o could have met and fallen in love with a girl he only met and knew online; it is quite another to believe that he could have gone three years without making physical contact with the woman he loved—especially after he claimed to have met her at a football game. It's even harder to believe knowing that Te'o's father claims she flew to Hawaii several times to visit the family.
The entire story is like a puzzle that, as new pieces are added, begins to form a picture so preposterous that Johnny Chung's creators would have blushed. How, many are asking, could such a tale be believed in the first place? The obvious reason, of course, is that sportswriters did not put all the pieces together. They never even tried.
But what does Te'o/Kekua mean? What does it say about our values and journalistic integrity?
Nothing, nothing, and nothing. The whole silly concoction is one that will be only dimly remembered in years to come, possibly relegated to a TV movie and a category on Jeopardy.
Will (as I'm hearing asked every 15 minutes on ESPN) the incident affect Te'o's status in the upcoming NFL draft? Are they kidding? Of course it will. If you're an NFL team official and you're about to spend millions of dollars on a first-year player, would you want to take chance on the seeming head case who perpetrated the myth of a dead girlfriend who never existed? Well, the New York Jets might take a chance—they'll try anybody. But not many other teams will, I'll wager.
The other meme surrounding the Te'o/Kekua story is about what is now being called "cut and paste" journalism, the process by which misinformation, often originating on Facebook and Twitter, is picked up reputable sources and thus validated as fact.