September 26, 2012

New York Times Reporter Says Cornell Students Quoted in Story Appear to Have Given False Information

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Updated at 2 p.m. with information from The New York Times

After fabricated identities of Cornell students appeared in a New York Times story Wednesday, Times reporter Courtney Rubin ’96 told The Sun that they were accurate representations of what she was told on Sept. 12 at Level B.

The story, “Last Call for College Bars,” cited several students by names and class years that were false, students personally acquainted with the quoted individuals told The Sun on the condition of anonymity. As first reported by the blog IvyGate, the names —  including “Michelle Guida” and “Vanessa Gilen,” who were cited in the story as 21-year-old Cornell students — are not listed in the University directory.

Rubin, a freelance writer for The Times, said she was “gob-smacked” by any implication that she may have fabricated the names of the students.

“I’m honestly shocked by this. I’m looking at my notebook, going over my notes … It’s all here,” Rubin said Wednesday night. “I can clearly see where it was in Level B where I spoke to them and what they were wearing. Why would I make up names? I don’t make stuff up.”

She added that she had not considered at the time that the students could be lying.

“Short of asking people for ID, you [assume] that when people give you a name, they represent themselves as who they are or say ‘I don’t want to be quoted,’” she added. “If I asked them for IDs, they probably would’ve given me fake IDs. … I assume they gave me the names on their fake IDs.”

Additionally, a photo caption also identifies three students — shown laughing over fishbowls at Level B — as “John Montana, David Lieberman and Ben Johnson.” The three students, referred to as “Cornell seniors” in the photo caption, are identified by false names and are in fact members of the Class of 2014, according to sources who spoke with The Sun.

Rubin said Wednesday that she did not personally have contact with the students featured in the photo, saying a Times photographer took down these student’s names at a later date. One of the students, who The Sun has granted anonymity, confirmed that he had never spoken to Rubin.

On Thursday, The Times appended an editor’s note to the story online: “None of the names provided by [six Cornell] students to a reporter and photographer for The Times — Michelle Guida, Vanessa Gilen, Tracy O’Hara, John Montana, David Lieberman and Ben Johnson — match listings in the Cornell student directory, and The Times has not subsequently been able to contact anyone by those names. The Times should have worked to verify the students’ identities independently before quoting or picturing them for the article.”

Jeff Stein contributed reporting to this article.

Original Author: Rebecca Harris