New York Times sues Filipina journalist for false representation
MANILA, Philippines – The New York Times is suing a Filipina journalist for falsely representing herself as one of its reporters to "gain admittance to news conferences and other events and to attract followers on social media.”
In its complaint filed on November 9, the Times said that "Contessa Bourbon" had a pattern of falsely representing herself as a reporter for the US newspaper. The Times said that Bourbon is not and has never been their reporter.
The Times only referred to "Contessa Bourbon" in the complaint but The FilAm reported that the publication was referrring to Rita Villadiego, a Filipina from Queens County who goes by the byline Contessa Bourbon.
"Despite the lack of any employment relationship between Ms Bourbon and The Times, Ms Bourbon has repeatedly represented herself as a journalist employed by The New York Times since at least May 2015,” the Times said in its complaint.
In May 2015, the Times alleged that Villadiego represented herself as their reporter at the Brookings Institution, asking questions and even interviewing the Turkish ambassador and other officials.
The Times reached out to Villadiego on the same month, asking her to cease and desist from identifying herself as its journalist. Villadiego did not respond and continued mispresenting herself.
On March 29, 2017, Villadiego attended a speech by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at the Brookings Institution and identified herself to attendees, and even asked Devos a question, as a reporter for the Times. Another Times reporter was also present at the event.
The Times again demanded for her to stop, but to no avail.
According to the complaint, Villadiego also wrote to a congressional staff member, asking to be allowed cover the Congressional Gold Medal awards event as a representative of the Times in October 2017.
When the staff member asked for documentation of her Times assignment, Villadiego tweeted that she was being blocked from covering the event by the congressional staff. This prompted the staff to contact the news organization.
"Ms Bourbon’s conduct has caused harm to the reputation of The New York Times because her conduct is inaccurately attributed to The New York Times,” the Times said.
On her Twitter account's bio, Villadiego also says she's a journalist for the Times, Wall Street Journal, London Times, Guardian, and the Washington Post. After the complaint was filed, she had since removed the Times from the list.
In what seemed to be her response to the complaint, Villadiego tweeted that reports about her misrepresentation were “fake news."
Villadiego said that she kept silent because her boss, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, said that the “NY Post would apologize” and that she didn’t want to “flare up the controversy.” She also claimed that Murdoch “castigated editor of NY Post last night for posting damaging fake news against me."
In her past tweets, Villadiego also claimed to have a memoir written about her life called, Queen Contessa Memoir. She also claimed that a movie based on her memoir is under development – directed by Steven Spielberg, co-produced by Dreamworks and 21st-Century Fox, and starring Angelina Jolie.
She also repeatedly claimed on Twitter that a broadway musical, also based on her memoir, is coming soon. This time, starring Filipina singer and broadway star Lea Salonga as Queen Contessa.
Salonga has already denied this in a tweet, calling it "100% fake news."
Filipino journalist Cristina Pastor, who is based in New York, said in a report she wrote for New York-based magazine The FilAm that she personally met Villadiego before.
According to her, Villadiego was a former reporter for the Philippine Daily Inquirer in Manila before she eventually became a freelance journalist in the US, writing mainly for the Filipino Express in Jersey City. She used her real name as a journalist before but she began using the byline Contessa Bourbon when she moved to Washington DC with her daughter.
"Even then, there was something odd about her. Some people thought she was unwell. I overheard one community leader admonish her, 'Rita, I think you should go home…for the sake of your daughter,'" Pastor wrote. – Rappler.com