Impersonation of N.Y. Times, Wall Street Journal Reporters Brings Lawsuits

New York Times building - Getty - H - 2016
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Forget fake news. How about fake reporters?

On Thursday, The New York Times filed suit over an individual it alleges has represented herself as a journalist at the publication in order to gain admittance to news conferences and other events and attract followers on social media.

The complaint (read here), filed in New York Supreme Court, targets a Queens, New York, resident identified as Contessa Bourbon. According to the legal papers, by holding herself out to be affiliated with The New York Times, she got to ask a question to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at an event at the Brookings Institution, was able to interview the Turkish ambassador, and more. Her Twitter profile identifies Bourbon as a "journalist" for various organizations, although the New York Times itself has now been removed from her page. She's tweeted to followers about reading her work in various publications including The Wall Street Journal.

"As a result of Ms. Bourbon’s actions, and her refusal to cease and desist from these actions despite repeated requests that she do so, The Times has suffered damage to the reputation of its trademarks," states the complaint. "The Times’s trademarks are associated with, and depend for their value upon, the quality of the reporting performed by its journalists. By falsely claiming to be a reporter representing The New York Times, Ms. Bourbon’s conduct has created the likelihood that The Times’s trademarks will be diluted and tarnished by a false association with Ms. Bourbon’s conduct and online writings."

The New York Times is suing for alleged injury to its business reputation and dilution of its marks. The publication demands injunctive relief.

This isn't the only court action filed this month over reporters being impersonated.

On Nov. 1, Muddy Waters Capital, an investment research firm that often focuses on finding overvalued companies, filed a petition in New York Court aimed at compelling Google to provide account information that may identify someone posing as Paris-based Wall Street Journal reporter William Horobin.

According to the firm, the anonymous individual set up an email — — and then contacted its public relations firm repeatedly to seek out confidential information concerning whether Muddy Waters Capital would be releasing new reports about a certain French retail conglomerate.

Muddy Waters Capital says it has a meritorious fraud claim against this individual, that it's got confirmation both from the real Horobin and the fake one about what happened, but that Google won't provide identifying information without a properly served third-party subpoena.

These instances are hardly the first concerning the impersonation of journalists. Most notably, Uber last year was slammed by a judge when its investigators held themselves out as reporters to target a lawsuit plaintiff. There was also the case brought by the Associated Press in 2015 against the FBI after the agency impersonated a reporter at its organization. The FBI would later set up new restrictions on doing so.

The newest lawsuits come amid revelations in a New Yorker story that a supposed freelance journalist called Harvey Weinstein accusers and then communicated with a spy agency that had been hired by Weinstein via the attorney David Boies, whose firm had been representing The New York Times.