(USA TODAY) - Advantage: Katie.
In the battle of big TV interview "gets," Lance Armstrong's I lied/I cheated/I doped confession to Oprah Winfrey may get points for honesty, but when it comes right down to it, what did he tell Winfrey that you didn't already know, or hadn't already heard from a thousand lying, cheating dopers?
The "I was the victim of a fake girlfriend" tale, on the other hand, that Notre Dame football player Manti Te'o shared with Katie Couric on her syndicated talk show Katie Thursday afternoon, may or may not be true, but you have to admit it was novel.
Te'o's tale is, in some ways, the ideal pop culture diversion; it's interesting without being at all important, at least not to anyone outside of his immediate family. If at times Couric did seem more somber than the story merited, she never pretended that it was anything much more than just that: an incredibly good, amazingly strange story, even saying in her introduction that it sounded like a TV movie.
For all we know, that may be where Te'o ends up selling it. But for now, he chose to tell it on Katie - and he chose wisely.
Notwithstanding the fact they share a publicist, you can see why a college football star would feel comfortable talking to Couric. She has always projected the air of the campus' most popular cheerleader, the kind who is nice to, and liked by, everyone. That works to her advantage when interviewing everyday people - particularly when combined with her ability to be empathetic without appearing phony on one hand or maudlin and intrusive on the other.
Her skill set served her well with Te'o. The approach she most often took was sympathetic mixed with stern: understanding at some points; skeptical, disappointed, even amused at others. She made him admit he lied. She pointed out that the hoax, while painful, also worked to his benefit. She asked him, in the most pointed exchange, why he never visited the non-existent Lennay Kekua when he thought she existed and was in the hospital.
And she addressed the theory that he made this story up to hide his real sexual orientation: "Are you gay?" The answer: "Far from it," an ill-chosen response almost certain to provoke a "protests too much" reaction.
There were moments that no doubt left viewers as incredulous as Couric sometimes seemed to be. (Can he really be that forgiving, that naïve and that, well, stupid?) But you should be wary of anyone who says he or she could tell whether Te'o was lying just by watching this interview. He's a young man who has been turned into a national joke, and most likely coached to address it on TV. Any of those factors, from his quite sensible embarrassment to the coaching itself, can make a person who isn't used to being on television come across as a liar. As, of course, can lying.
And if he is lying? You can bet some TV show will welcome him back for a second confession.
Maybe even Katie.