The New York Times Quoted Non-Existent Cornell Students for Trend Piece [UPDATED]

UPDATE (9/28, 6 PM): NYT editor Stuart Emmrich provides a statement to the Washington Post:

Courtney Rubin, who has written several pieces for Styles in the past year, has proven herself to be a thorough and reliable reporter, and nothing about the unfortunate incident at Cornell changes that fact. Moreover, 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.

UPDATE (9/27, 1:45 PM): The Times article now carries an Editors’ Note:

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 says it “should have worked to verify the students’ identities independently before quoting or picturing them for the article.”

UPDATE (5 AM): To summarize everything below: 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. (The Cornell Daily Sun has a few more details.) Our post and headline should have been clearer about who made what up: that it was the six students, not the Times contributor or photographer, who provided fake names.

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. We regret any confusion this caused, and any unwarranted criticism against Rubin it occasions.

UPDATE (12:05 AM): The article’s author has emailed IvyGate:

Wow. Of all the reaction I expected, this wasn’t it — I’m truly shocked and upset. I spoke to all four of the women mentioned in the lede and one of them even told me she didn’t want her name used, so I didn’t quote her.

I’ve just now gotten off the phone with The Cornell Daily Sun, whose 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.

As for the photograph, it was taken on a different evening from the day I did my reporting (Sept 12), and I was not there when it was taken.

A few hours ago The New York Times published a Trend Piece™ about Cornell’s bar scene. Among reporter Courtney Rubin’s discoveries:

Cool is irrelevant when you have arrived at a bar at the insanely early hour of just after 9 p.m. on a Wednesday, in the company of a fraternity “most of us wouldn’t go to a mixer with,” said Michelle Guida, 21, fiddling with her orange Hermès bracelet and gathering three straws to drink from simultaneously. “But it’s their bar tab,” said Vanessa Gilen, also 21, who did not look up from her iPhone as she sipped and texted furiously.

One problem: Neither Guida nor Gilen, identified by the Times as Cornell seniors, actually exist. Nor does Tracy O’Hara, another “Cornell senior.” None of their names appear in Cornell’s online student directory. (Link, link, link.)

Even worse: The caption for the picture below—referencing “Cornell seniors” John Montana, David Lieberman, and Ben Johnson—contains zero real names.

We cannot wait to read the correction on this one.

With reporting by Peter Jacobs

26 Responses to “The New York Times Quoted Non-Existent Cornell Students for Trend Piece [UPDATED]”

  1. Recent Alum Says:

    They must’ve forgotten the obligatory “the names have been changed by request of the students” line. Maybe Courtney Rubin had a few too many sips of the fishbowl herself.

  2. 620 8th Ave Says:

    “Courtney Rudin” doesn’t exist either. It’s “Rubin.” Looks like she’s just a freelancer for The Times. Wanna guess she won’t be tomorrow?

  3. GGt2 Says:

    Naive journalism question – in a piece like this, is it on Rubin to check that kind of thing? Does a paper like the Times have dedicated fact checkers to check names? Is Rubin obligated to follow up with the people she quoted to make sure everything is correct? Was she obligated to literally look them up in the school’s directory?

  4. A Bwogger Says:

    I don’t normally comment on on IvyGate…but I came here to say props, guys. You’re really been on your shit, lately.

  5. Ronald Says:

    Everyone is missing the point. Cornell bars and most Cornell students are lame. Bottom line. Any current or alumni that has any grip on reality would agree.

  6. anon Says:

    There is nothing to do in Ithaca but get drunk.

  7. Grade_Inflation Says:

    And we’re supposed to believe that Harvard students are attending the symphony on Saturday nights.

  8. GGt2 Says:

    Maybe not but there’s probably more to do in the Boston metro, in general.

  9. Grade_Inflation Says:

    And by “more to do” you mean “more bars” to get drunk in. And less intelligent people to try to have sex with e.g. BC and BU kids.

    Look, I’ve had this conversation with Harvard people when they try to explain why nobody goes to their hockey games. The conversation goes like this.

    Harvard person: Well, there’s nothing to do in Ihaca so you go to hockey games.
    Me: Well, what are Harvard kids doing on Friday and Saturday nights from 7 to 9 PM?
    Harvard: There’s so much to do in Boston.
    Me: But what specifically are they doing in those hours?
    Me: The answer is eating, drinking, sleeping, studying, or having sex. It’s pretty much the universal college experience. Even at Harvard.

  10. BoBo Jones Says:

    Ivygate it seems like all you do is jump down the throat of any article about any school around, ruthlessly critique it and then apologize for getting your facts mixed up as well. You guys are hacks, get a real job.

  11. observer Says:

    that’s kind of the point.. to deliver news first. obviously mistakes will be made but the editors don’t really seem to backtrack and with journalistic integrity acknowledge their mistakes

  12. observer Says:

    that’s kind of the point.. to deliver news first. obviously mistakes will be made but the editors don’t really seem to backtrack and with journalistic integrity acknowledge their mistakes

  13. J.K. Trotter Says:


  14. mikey mike Says:

    sup boo

  15. J.K. Trotter Says:


  16. Nope Says:

    I know the bald black guy in the back…he’s a creepy 26 yr old that still crashes frat parties and hits on teenage girls

  17. dbagwatcher Says:

    Glad to see that this kind of shitty “reporting” is what comes out of ivy league schools. Let’s hope you guys never have a single hole in a single story you ever write. Who the hell do you people think you are? And who would read this shit, if not to simply behold it as an example of meaningless tripe?

  18. Recent Alum Says:

    U mad bro?

  19. dbagwatcher Says:

    Yeah delete my comment — cause you know I’m right, mother fuckers. Eat shit, you pathetic excuse for “journalists.”

  20. J.K. Trotter Says:


  21. dbagwatcher Says:

    My apologies — your shitty web site seemingly deleted my comment. Feel free to ignore all but the part about about you being pathetic.

  22. IvyLeaguer Says:


  23. anon Says:

    The point of this site is to find any bad news about an ivy league school and write about it.

  24. Professor_Chang Says:

    I think the biggest story here is that there is nobody named David Lieberman at Cornell. I think when I went there there were three guys with that name in my class. John Montana should have tried out Johnny Utah instead.

  25. ThatCornellGuy Says:

    Agreed. I think of all of the pseudonyms dropped in the article, “David Lieberman” is by far the most believable.

  26. CornellDropOut Says:

    I thought this story looked familiar, so I googled. Voila:

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