The New York Times quoted or pictured six fake names in a Sept. 27 story, “Last Call for College Bars.” The article, which reports on Cornell University students, bars, and social media, now carries a Sept. 27 “editors’ note” that explains “After the article was published, questions were raised by the blog IvyGate about the identities of six Cornell students quoted in the article or shown in an accompanying photo.”
The Times added:
“None of the names provided by those 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.”
Ivy Gate had reported that the names were fake and that Rubin said she is “truly shocked and upset” that she was duped. Rubin added that the photographer who went “on a different evening from the day I did my reporting” was also tricked.
She also told IvyGate that Cornell student newspaper The Cornell Daily Sun ‘s “research suggests these women were underage and so gave me fake names. Obviously I can’t explain why they wouldn’t just decline to give me names in the first place — or decline to be interviewed full stop — but I certainly didn’t make them up.” IvyGate also updated its post to apologize for “any confusion” in its earlier post including a “characterization” “to suggest that Rubin invented or otherwise fabricated the names in question” when IvyGate said it thinks the students made them up because they couldn’t legally drink.
The Daily Sun reported that Rubin said, “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’.”
New York Magazine noted that for this story on college students and social media, “Facebook might’ve also been a helpful fact-checking tool.”
The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple reported that Times‘ Styles editor Stuart Emmrich defended Rubin’s reporting but accepted responsibility for the issue. He is quoted as saying:
“As the editor, I probably should have realized that, in a state where the drinking age is 21, there was a likelihood that some people hanging out in a college bar might be underage and prone to lying about it. We pressed Courtney to make sure she only quoted people who were legally there — and, in fact, several people in the bar admitted as much to her, and thus were not included in the article. It never occurred to me that some patrons would not only let their fake names be published, but would also do so while having their pictures taken. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened.”
Wemple commented: “Isn’t it glorious when editors stand up and take some blame?”
iMediaEthics has written to Emmrich asking if the Times will beef up its fact checking of identities when reporting on similar stories involving potential underage drinkers. We’ll update with any response.