NY Times Editor’s ‘We Were Fooled By People Who Made Up Their Names’ Note Fails to Cite Observed Underage Drinking Incidents
In her September 26 report in the paper’s Fashion & Style section (“Last Call for College Bars”; Sept. 27 print edition), Courtney Rubin at the New York Times devoted over 1,600 words to a portrayal, primarily in Ithaca, New York, home of Cornell University, of the declining college bar scene.
Rubin described the travails of, among others, Michelle Guida, Vanessa Gilen, Tracy O’Hara, and John Montana. A photo which originally accompanied the article said it pictured David Lieberman and Ben Johnson. There’s only one teeny tiny problem, one which might lead one to question the degree to which Rubin’s underlying work is fictional (i.e., containing fictional stories relayed by those interviewed, not items made up by Ms. Rubin). It’s explained in an “Editor’s Note” dated September 28 at the end of the online version Rubin’s report (a graphic of the Note as it appeared in the print edition is here; bolds are mine throughout this post):
Editors’ Note: September 28, 2012
An article on Thursday described the effect of social media use on the bar scene in several college towns, including the area around Cornell. 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.
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.
Rubin quoted the first four of the six falsely named persons listed above. If their names aren’t right, why are we supposed to presumptively believe that the students weren’t making other stuff up? How did Ms. Rubin, who apparently did not attempt to go to any of her subjects’ Facebook pages (which she of course would not have been able to find), even know that the misidentified “students” are really students before submitting her draft?
It gets worse.
I wondered why the Times didn’t link to IvyGate’s post. While the explanation may simply be a matter of professional arrogance, there’s another factor, as seen in this update at IvyGate:
UPDATE (12:15 AM): We just got off the phone with Courtney Rubin, the article’s reporter, who took issue—rightly—with this post’s characterization of her article. We did not intend to suggest that Rubin invented or otherwise fabricated the names in question. It seems clear that the individuals described provided the reporter with fake names because they were underage.
W-W-Wait a minute.
While the Cornell Daily Sun was able to verify that most and perhaps all of the individuals are indeed Cornell students, it found that “three students, referred to as ‘Cornell seniors’ in the photo caption (at the story), are identified by false names and are in fact members of the Class of 2014.” The legal drinking age in New York, as noted at soon to be former Times subsidiary About.com, is 21, so one or more of the pictured students was likely underage — a “little” detail the Editor’s Note at the New York Times “somehow” failed to mention.
IvyGate’s summary: “A bunch of Cornell students trolled the New York Times, providing a contributor and a photographer with fake names on two separate occasions. They seem to have done this because they were not old enough to drink.”
How strange that this occurred, given the following factor cited in Rubin’s writeup as a contributor to college bars’ financial problems:
Meanwhile, crackdowns on serving under-age patrons coupled with students increasingly fearful of fake identification troubles trailing them to the job market have further cut bars’ clientele. By midafternoon most days, the pleading Facebook messages start popping up on upperclassmen’s phones: “Need a handle!” (Translation: a half-gallon of liquor.)
Oh, there’s more. In an email to Erik Wemple at the Washington Post, Time Styles editor Stuart Emmrich wrote, in effect, that Rubin saw underage drinking occur and didn’t report it:
… 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.
That sort of undercuts that “underage drinking crackdown” claim in Rubin’s story, doesn’t it, Stu? (Note: Yours truly is not a fan of the current artificially high legal drinking age in most states, but the law is what it is.)
Rubin told the Cornell Daily Sun that “she had not considered at the time that the students could be lying.” Nah, that never happens. (/sarc)
The reaction of Sarah Hoyt at Instapundit: “Always remember, these people are trustworthy, unlike those bloggers working in their pajamas.” Yes, that was also written with sarcasm.
Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.