‘The Woman Who Wasn’t There’: shades of Manti Te’o?

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The ease with which a good sob story generally will go unquestioned was demonstrated for the zillionth time last week with that bizarre tale out of South Bend, Indiana, about the football player and the imaginary (dead) girlfriend.

Who would make up a story about his grandmother and his “girlfriend” dying within hours of each other and a big football game?

It’s too good not to be true, and besides, who among us would want to fact check the story with “grieving” friends and relatives?

My first exposure to this sort of mad, self-pitying fantasy came many years ago, when I was working at a (long-closed) hotel in Ocean City, N.J., and one of the friends of the owners made up a story that he had terminal cancer just so he could spend the whole season there free.

I kid you not.

The gambit annoyed the hell out of me — a lowly desk clerk/waiter — because a guy who was obnoxious before the “illness” became downright unbearable after he went into his Camille act.

I’ve been a tad suspicious of self-promoting tragedies ever since.

Perhaps it’s part of that old journalism school joke about the reporter who writes “My mother loves me” and is told to get a second source.

In a weird coincidence, the Manti Te’o story broke the night before I watched a riveting documentary, “The Woman Who Wasn’t There,” about a Spanish woman who made up the name “Tania Head” and then presented herself as a double-victim in the wake of 9/11 — she claimed to have nearly died in her Morgan Stanley office in one of the WTC towers as her husband/fiance (the story kept changing) died in the other tower.

Tania became one of the most powerful figures in the WTC survivors’ groups and hobnobbed with the biggest politicians in New York. The deception went on for years, until someone tipped off a New York Times reporter and Tania’s story began to fall apart.

The way this woman took advantage of other survivors and used her story for maximum publicity and clout is truly appalling. The film by Angelo J. Gugliemo, Jr. was made simultaneously with the creation of a book with the same title that he co-authored with Robin Gaby Fisher.

Tania disappeared as her fake identity unraveled so we never get to hear her “side” but the film and the book tell one of the most bizarre stories of deception you will ever experience.

Joe Meyers

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