Web Hostess Live: The latest from the Web

Jan 23, 2013

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners and the next great meme.

Afternoon, everyone, and thanks for stopping by. We'll start at 2. If I go silent for a prolonged period of time, can someone reach over and rattle my keyboard? I'm sleep deprived from playing Cinderella all weekend long.


In what now seems like a million years ago -- but which has actually happened since our last chat -- you have all read the astounding Deadspin article on Manti Te'o and his non-existent girlfriend. And now, he's come clean to Katie Couric, telling her that he did lie, at least eventually, because once he found out that the girlfriend didn't exist, he didn't know what else to do.


Here's an essay I wrote last week, shortly after the news broke. 


I don't have a poll jimmied up related to all of this -- it's too big and sprawling, and we've all probably discussed it to death in the past six days. But I want to leave it open as a conversation topic, especially with the Katie Couric update. I'm interested in how this has all made you feel -- whether it was surprising or shocking or sad, or...?

AND: In a completely shameless plug of self-promotion. Some of you have been kind enough to ask after my book over the course of the past few months. It has a cover and back matter now, which I've uploaded to the Style section's Tumblr, if you want to take a look.

AND: Can we have a final word on this Michelle Obama / John Boehner GIF? 

I think it is pretty clear that it is not what people say it is. 

Do you think spending too time time in Iowa cost you that decisive 12th for the win?

I was hoping someone would bring up The Running of the Balls, i.e. the inaugural ball death-match that Dan Zak and I engaged in this weekend.


Truthfully, I lost more time in Texas than I did in Iowa. If I'd gotten out of Texas earlier, I would have had time to make it to Oklahoma, which was going to be next on my list. But when a cowboy says he can lift you over his head, you're not going to say no.


Dan evaluates his performance:  "I could've not flailed about so much at the North Carolina ball. I wasn't very aggressive right off the bat, so I ended up spending 30-40 minutes panicking and then conversing my way toward Sen. Hagan. If I had gotten in and out of N.C. in 10-15 minutes, I would've had time for one more ball after Florida. Probably New Mexico?"

I wanted countless Eric Cantor squint gifs and instead I got a thousand "is singing to a vocal track while still on mic lip-synching" debates. The latter answer is no. Now let's get back to Eric Cantor, poetry critic, and meme up the joint like we are supposed to.

Would it be helpful if I sent you gifs of Cantor's reactions to the SOTU address last year? 

(And here's the Cantor's hunh? face from the poem, which should have launched a thousand gifs.)

I don't think she's rolling her eyes at him. I think she's probably good naturedly doing at it at something a speaker is saying, and Boehner's right there, probably commiserating with her. I say this as a partisan Republican, by the by. (please don't stone me!)

See, I saw the eyeroll come just after something her husband said, not something the Speaker said. It looked like a wifely eyeroll to me.

Or maybe it is exactly what people say it is. That's exactly the face I make when I've hit the wall after being forced to spend too much time with boyfriend's boorish friends.

Oh, but she's normally so poised. I don't feel like someone who has been the First Lady for four years would allow herself such an egregious breach of etiquette. 

Has Deadspin crossed over from sports tabloid/full-time ESPN troll to something closer to actual journalism? I don't know that their goal is legit news organization--their site currently features a collection of street fight videos--but they were definitely out front on this story. I remember when the National Enquirer went from alien abduction stories to getting some actual breaking news, fair analogy?

What's heartening to see is that even though their normal forte might not be hard news reporting, their writers are still able to pull it off, and pull it off well, when the situation arises. That was a good story. Not only in the reporting, but it was lushly written. There's a paragraph at the end that's especially nice.

After a good first date (basically went in blind) I went home and googled him and found a treasure trove of information about how awesome he is. I'm now completely in awe and feel totally inferior. How do I handle this without looking like a total goober?

What are you considering "awesome?" Are you digging up hard evidence, i.e. information about awards he's one, races he's run, volunteer projects he's commandeered? Because people can have all of those things and still be boring. Or jerky.


Or are you digging up subjective things, like posts in which he's revealed himself to be kind, smart, funny, etc? Because he probably thinks you're all those things, too.


And just remember -- everyone puts their best foot forward online. Everyone's presence is crafted to make them appear endearing. Whatever you're seeing isn't the full truth. He still puts his pants on one leg at a time.

Just looking at the gifs, it doesn't look like she's actually even rolling her eyes. I assumed it was her trying to turn her head at least a little in his direction to acknowledge the fact he was talking but not so much she drops a piece of food from her fork.

Really? I think it's pretty apparently an eyeroll. I just don't think she's rolling her eyes at what everyone thinks she's rolling her eyes at.

This may be the best thing I've read all year. Thank you, Monica. How did you run so fast in heels?

I wear heels every day. They obey me.

Regarding the balls: Were you nervous about letting the big Texan fellow pick you up, and was it awkward? For the record, it looked pretty awesome, not awkward. You clearly would have been fine doing the lift in Dirty Dancing. Regarding grub: You're vegetarian, right? We are eating vegetarian/vegan-ish, and I am the cook. I am having a hard time finding recipes that are not a variation on vegetable jumble/stirfry. Any blogs/site you can recommend for veg and/or vegan cooking?

Awkward? Nevaaarrr. He'd lifted a million gals in his time.

As for food: I am a disciple of Kim Barnouin, the co-author of the Skinny B---- series. I'm not all that handy in the kitchen, but I have never made a recipe of Kim's that was not completely delicious. Buy her Ultimate Everyday Cookbook. I could eat every day from that book.

I'm not really sure what to make of all this, and am interested in your take (sorry if I've missed it elsewhere). Though I haven't really looked into what he's told Katie Couric, it still *feels* like we're only half-way to the truth. My gut still tells me that he was behind the whole setup, regardless of what the "perpetrators" are saying... remember this kid is about to be handed a vault of money; he could have easily told them "you didn't do anything illegal, and I'll give you a boatload of money to take the fall for this." I guess what I'm really bothered by is the whole "catfish" angle of this. I don't buy it. And don't really understand how anyone (particularly someone in college today who grew up in the internet age) could fall for something like that. Could he have fallen "in love" with someone online without ever meeting them? I guess so. But could that last for a couple of years, when their plans to meet in person repeatedly fail? Personally I think that is a load of horse dung. I'd be really interested in your take as an "internet reporter." Is the Catfish angle believable? Possible?

I linked to my initial essay up in the intro. More information has come out since then -- but truthfully, the current version of events is just about the version I would have expected: He was duped in the beginning, and for a long while, and when he eventually found out the truth, he continued to go along with the lie because he was embarrassed at looking like a patsy.


I can totally believe this. We do not seek out deception online. We seek out things to believe. It's why people forward things without Snopesing, it's why people click on things without Googling. Te'o lives in a world in which people are probably always demanding things of him. They want his attention. They want his proxemity to fame. They want him to do things for them. And along comes a girl who doesn't want anything, except to talk with him? I can absolutely see why that would appeal to him.


Not to mention the fact that the Mormon religion values letter-writing. They value getting to know someone on an intellectual level before progressing to a physical one. Te'o's religious upbringing could have come into play. It might have been a relief that he met someone who wasn't clamoring for an IRL meetup.

The chat doesn't appear to be auto-refreshing like it normally does. Then again, it was doing the same thing in the Food chat earlier...

Alas, I don't think there's anything I can do about that. You all must excercise your index fingers today. Can you handle several extra clicks? I think you can.

Tons of vegetarian recipes on Sprouted Kitchen and Smitten Kitchen, and Tasty Kitchen has a lot of vegetarian stuff too. Most of the stuff on those is legit good food, too, not just here's a pile of vegetables.


And yes. The number of places who claim to offer vegetarian dishes, when really those dishes are just pasta or lettuce? Shameful.

This was my favorite thing that Deadspin did... 

It was...fairly amazing, wasn't it?

Inside Edition had a lip reader look at the video and said the eye roll was a response to Boehner (a chain smoker) teasing the president about Michelle not allowing him to smoke anymore.

Oh, I love this. Such a marital thing to complain about.

Monica (and Dan!) - I loved, loved, loved the running of the balls!!! You two are just hilarious!

Thank you!

How do you get them to obey you? I have not mastered this trick yet.

You really just have to show them whose boss. Don't pussyfoot around, and be willing to get frequent heel replacements. (On the shoes. Not your feet).

I'm so confused

It's not. The chat is happening in the chat section. But the chat section also has a comments section (confused yet?), in which someone posted a comment before the chat even started, so I responded to it there.


The comments, FWIW, are all about the word "enormity" and whether or not Manuel Roig Franzia and I used it incorrectly in an article about the inaugural balls. We used it in an appropriate context. The people who think we did not are blatantly wrong.

I think it is impossible to be catfished unless you want to be. There had to be times during the "relationship" that he saw red flags and wilfully ignored them. No skyping? No FaceTime? Seriously? That is just insanity. What's up with the other people who claimed to have met her? Why did HE claim to have met her? It's fine to have an internet romance, so just go with it and don't say you saw her outside a football game. Lies. Lies. Lies. I really think this was a sad story for Heisman votes...

Well. Of COURSE he wanted to be. But we all want to be Catfished in every single relationship we're in, whether that relationship is online or in person. We look for the good things in people we've just met. If we're starry-eyed enough over them, we make excuses. 


If you were corresponding with someone who lived 2,000 miles away from you, the idea of meeting in person wouldn't even come up for months and months -- not until you felt that you know this person pretty well, and you wanted to invest the time, money and effort that an in-person meeting would require. And -- here's the Catch-22 -- once you felt you knew them well enough, you probably would also feel that you trusted them. So when they said, at the last minute, "I can't come and meet you because I'm contagious/my grandma died/I got a new job/etc" your first inclination would be to believe them.

Why does the chat have comments now? I'd rather have no comments section and an auto-updating chat... Hey, WaPo, maybe quit messing around with the software?

The chat has always had comments. Always. They have always been there. I promise you. It's just that most of the time, people don't comment in the comments, because they would rather chat in the chat. This time, someone did comment in the comments, and so I responded to them there. Everybody breathe. It's going to be okay.

can you post a link to something that's not a Tumblr? I can't access it at work :(

I Tweeted out a picture of it last week -- can you access Twitter from work? (you might have to scroll through lots of Running of the Balls nonsense).

HIMYM did an episode about this. Ted and his date promised that they wouldn't google each other, and had a great date. The friends googled her and sent him the results. He peeked. She was so totally awesome that it ruined the date; she guessed that he'd googled her and felt betrayed.

Yes. I have seen this episode. It was very instructive.

I *mostly* feel bad for the guy, which is unusal for a guy about to make a bazillion dollars playing a sport. I believe that he was duped but where my sympathy wanes is with regards to what he said and did after learning it was a hoax. If a timeline is established that shows that he continued to garner sympathy and possibly pad his heisman candidacy with a sad story around a dead girlfriend, then he starts to share blame. However, his blame pales in comparison to the other sports scandal, Lance Armstrong. His deception was directly related to his sport and the sanctimonous behavior that came with being the only clean racer in a dirty sport. Te'o is a dumb kid who was embarrassed about being duped; Lance is a bully and cheater

This pretty much mirrors my own feelings. I can imagine trying to decide how/whether to address the questions. "How's my girlfriend? Funny thing. She never existed." 


He probably thought that since she had already "died" months ago, there was no point in bringing people's attention to the fact that she was a hoax.

Wait, what? Maybe I don't understand what "Catfish" means, but I don't get this comment. Who knew I'd reach "out of touch" status while still in my 20s? Not a good day.

Catfish = to get reeled into believing someone is someone they aren't.


The PP had said that he didn't believe Te'o's story, because he thought one could only be Catfished if they wanted to be. My point was that we all want to be. We all want to believe the best of new relationships.

Barbara Walters winds up in the hospital after taking a header at the British Embassy, then Katie Couric gets the Manti Te'o interview. Coincidence? I think not...


true. But you also would've googled them long before that. And, yes, you would've Skyped or something. I'm still of the mind that Te'o was/is a big dummy.

He could be a big, trusting oaf and still not be a liar.

He could also have never taken the relationship that seriously -- i.e. he didn't think she was the love of his life, he just thought she seemed like a cool, pretty girl -- but the media built it up to epic proportions because the story sounded so good.

Those of you in the back, stop giggling

[Sigh.] Dan and I promised our editor that no one would make this joke, because our readers were better than that.

Here's a question for those who believe it was a set-up from the get-go: Does that mean you believe that this guy sat down three years ago and said "You know, just in case I'm a Heisman candidate and Notre Dame is back at the top my senior year, I'm going to invent a fake girlfriend now so I have someone to kill off for sympathy." Given that the main point of contention is the death and the sympathy he received for it, it's ludicrous to imagine this being a three-year plot leading up to that.

(I thought I posted this already -- apologies if it shows up twice).

Like Anthony Weiner on twitpic?

Yes. Er. No.

Enjoyed your Running of the Balls story! Seems like it was a little stressful solo (with photog?), but would be fun to do with teams. One question. When you were biking, how did your photographer keep up?

Dan and I talked about doing it with teams, but ultimately decided that this go round should just be us. We didn't know how well it would work out, and we would have felt badly dragging other people with us if it all went bust. Frankly, I think it was better as a solo effort. Completing those tasks required acting like an idiot -- behaviors I would rather just keep to myself. And to the readers of the Washington Post.

Hi--I have heard a lot of people doubting the veracity of feelings that can be evoked in purely online relationships, and thought I'd weigh in. I didn't get Catfished or whatever, but did get connected w/ a guy on a dating site, and we moved to real email when I quit the dating site. That moved to g-chatting, and we chatted basically every work day. It got to the point, though, where I realized I was giving up real life opportunities for the illusion of him, and I cut the chatting, which eventually ended the emails, and we don't talk anymore. But he's now married (I googled after this story came out), and is a real person, etc. The most interesting part to me was how upset I was when I made the choice to limit my contact with him. We had become a support system of sorts for each other. (I will also note that I am a reasonably attractive woman who was in my early 30s at the time, have dated people in real life before and since, and am not a troll who spends all my time indoor on the internet. I am a real person who had that kind of attachment.) All this goes to say, I feel bad for him, but not that bad once he has admitting to perpetuating the lie.

I'm posting this because I think it's a useful illustration to how an intelligent, normal person could end up in a situation similar to Te'o's.

On the web check 101cookbooks.com and for cookbooks, get the original Moosewood Restaurant cookbook. Both outstanding.

A few years ago I visited some friends who live up near Cornell. We went to eat at the real Moosewood Restaurant, and it was one of the culinary highlights of my life.

Yes it's from another publication, but here is an excellent story about having a fake online SO

Thanks, I can't wait to read. There was another fairly famous case of this, chronicled in some place like Esquire or GQ. I'm blanking on the writer's name right now, but it was also fascinating.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/jpmoore/the-11-fishiest-quotes-from-manti-teos-september You can find the full interview on SI's site, but these answers really do seem "fishy." These just don't seem like the answers someone who is in a deeply loving relationship with a person would give. He should know more details about his "girlfriend."

Right. But they don't seem like the answers someone would give who was a mastermind behind a large scheme. I mean, if you invented and pulled off this whole thing, wouldn't you have some set answers laid out? Ones that weren't going to be traceable? You wouldn't say, "Oh, I think she majored in English, maybe? At Stanford?" You would say, "She was homeschooled, and she was saving money for college by babysitting, and she loved reading."

Talk about an eye roll. I hate to see the jokes you don't post to the chat...

I post all my jokes to the chat. Are you saying I'm not going to win the comedian face-off on Star Search?

Hello Monica; Why does the WAPO website divide articles into "pages"? Personally; I much prefer your chat which goes merrily along with no breaks: Are the breaks a means for you guys to track whether readers go beyond the middle of the article or ???? Thanks for taking my question:

I know, it's a pain. We make you refresh, we make you click through pages...But we appreciate you putting up with us.

Er, not me. But then again, I think it makes more sense to turn OFF as many people as possible by being myself, thereby leaving maybe one person who likes me for who I am, than to try to attract as many people as possible with a false front.

Okay. So when you find that person, and they love you just for who you are, and they think you're awesome, and they make you feel good about yourself, and you feel good about the relationship...When they say, "I'm sorry I can't hang out this weekend, my brother is in town," do you say:


A) No problem, have fun.

B) No problem. Just provide me with copies of his flight itinerary and photographs documenting your weekend so that I can make sure that you're really hanging out with your brother, and not hanging out with the wife and kids you haven't told me you have.


People get suckered. All. The. Time. Leaving yourself open for a relationship means leaving yourself open to get blindsided.

That's all for this week, guys. I will see you next week. And by "see," I mean "type to." Because I have no way of verifying that any of you are who you say you are. (Cue ominous music).

Until then, follow me on Twitter  @MonicaHesse or email me at hessem@washpost.com

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Monica Hesse
Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.

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