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Is It Illegal to Falsely Say You're a Reporter?

question mark over face, hidden identity
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on September 11, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

While we all know that lying is wrong, most lies don't become court cases. Judges aren't keen on resolving a spouse's unfulfilled promise of washing the dishes, for example. Even claims -- all evidence to the contrary -- that there will be a Broadway play and feature film about your life, complete with Angelina Jolie in the starring role and Steven Spielberg directing, are probably not going to get you into legal trouble.

Holding yourself out to be a Wall Street Journal reporter, and going to such lengths as to attend press events, interview subjects, and send billing requests to the company, however, will get you sued. But on what grounds?

Fake News(hound)

For years, Contessa Bourbon listed the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, London Times, Guardian, and Washington Post in her Twitter bio. But at least two of those news agencies claim the woman has never worked for them. The New York Times sued Bourbon last year, perhaps prompting her to remove references to the Gray Lady from her Twitter page.

And then last week the Wall Street Journal's parent company, Dow Jones, filed a complaint against Bourbon, seeking to bar her from continuing to claim a connection with the news outlet. The lawsuit claims Bourbon held herself out as a Wall Street Journal reporter at press events, including CNBC's sit-down interview with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in May, during which she asked Ross a question during the interview. Bourbon also sent correspondence and payment requests to then-WSJ-editor in chief Gerard Baker. "If I can't work at the New York Times because of him, I have to fully move to Wall Street Jouran [sic] and London Times," she wrote in an email. "I'm sorry, I may not be able to write news this week." "I'm glad that my proposed ads got published in our newspaper, webpage and magazine," she wrote in another, referring to herself as Deputy Managing Editor. "Thanks for everyone's cooperation."

Tall Tale Street Journal

So, what's the big deal if one Queens woman (who also claims "Queen of Barcelona" on Twitter) wants to say she's a reporter and maybe sneak a few extra questions in a press conference? Dow Jones's claims are actually based on New York trademark laws. The lawsuit alleges:

Ms. Bourbon's use of the The Wall Street Journal™ trademark in connection with her physical impersonation of a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and in representing herself online (via her social media accounts including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) as the same has caused and will likely continue to cause confusion, or injury to the business reputation of Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal, or dilution of the distinctive quality of Dow Jones's trademarks.

The suit is seeking an injunction restraining Bourbon from continuing to represent herself as a Wall Street Journal reporter, along with attorneys' fees and court costs. You can read the full lawsuit here.

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