Filipina journalist sued for ‘impersonating’ a New York Times reporter

red line

red line

On Twitter, a photo of Rita  Villadiego at the Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C.

On Twitter, a photo of Rita Villadiego at the Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C.

By Cristina DC Pastor

The woman The New York Times is suing for “physical impersonation” of a NYT journalist is Filipina reporter Rita Villadiego, formerly a reporter for the Philippine Daily Inquirer in Manila. In the U.S., she is a freelance journalist who wrote mainly for the Filipino Express in Jersey City, first under her real name. After a couple of years, she began to use the byline Contessa Bourbon.

Rita, a tiny woman with a smiling face, suffers from scoliosis. Her back curves to one side. She tells me people on the subway are nice and always offer her a seat. Sometimes she attends press events wearing a neck brace to correct her posture. Rita has a teenage daughter named Hope.

I met Rita many years ago, as we covered events of the Filipino American community. I saw her at David Tupaz’s fashion show at the Philippine Center, and, from memory, we may have run into each other at the gold exhibit at the Asia Society. I may have edited some of her articles when I was managing the oldest FilAm newspaper, Philippine News, from 2005 to 2011, when she would occasionally contribute articles from NYC and New Jersey. At the time, she was still using her real name.

Contessa Bourbon became her nom de plume around the time she and Hope moved to Washington D.C. When I asked why she was leaving New York, she said she was being hounded by “terrorists” so she had to change address and change her name. I had no reason to doubt her because I’ve never really read many of her articles. I was not aware her life was in danger.

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.”

Her Facebook intro identifying herself as one who “works at Nytimes,” has put her up for derision by some in the community. The few times I’ve seen her, we’ve been on mere waving terms barely speaking to each other. She would keep to one corner of the room or would appear to be busy with interviews. Her posts began to sound bizarre. One of our friends in Manila sent me a text asking if she’s OK because “she looks like she needs help.”

The NYT complaint filed November 9 alleges that Contessa Bourbon has a “pattern of representing that she is a reporter for The New York Times in order to…gain admittance to news conferences and other events and to attract followers on social media, when she is not and has never been a reporter for The New York Times.”

Rita’s alias was used throughout the nine pages of the court document.

Her Facebook page

Her Facebook page

The complaint cited instances where she misrepresented herself as a NYT reporter:

–“In May 2015, Ms. Bourbon falsely represented herself as a New York Times reporter in: (1) asking questions at an event at the Brookings Institution; and (2) interviewing the Turkish Ambassador and other officials.

–“On March 29, 2017, Ms. Bourbon attended a speech by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at the Brookings Institution and identified herself to attendees, including another New York Times reporter, as a reporter for The New York Times. Ms. Bourbon stood and asked a question of Ms. DeVos at that event in the guise of being a New York Times reporter.

–“On October 12, 2017, she wrote to a congressional staff member asking to cover the Congressional Gold Medal awards event as a representative of The New York Times.”

“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,” according to the complaint.

CGTN America Assignment Editor Lenn Almadin Thornhill remembered Rita as a media colleague who covered the FilAm community of New York and New Jersey. “Always bumped into her at events.”

“I’ve always known her as a journalist, as a reporter. We lost touch when I moved to Trinidad, but still kind of looked at what she’s been up to,” she shared when reached by The FilAm.

They ran into each other three years ago and Rita told Lenn that she was now writing for the NYT. “I was proud of her, I mean it’s The New York Times!”

When Lenn tried doing a search of what Rita had written, nothing would come up. “So I wondered.”

Said Lenn as she read the news about the NYT lawsuit, “I knew her as a good person who loved her daughter deeply. I’m not sure why or what happened. I hope she’s OK.”

The FilAm contacted Rita Villadiego for her reaction to the lawsuit, but has not heard back from her. We will update the story when she makes a statement.

© 2017 The FilAm


  1. Casmot wrote:

    Sad story. I think i met her in one event. And a friend told me she is skeptic that this lady is working to NYT. I believed that many FilAms are having a difficult life here in the US. Individualism is one of the problem why many are suffeeing from mental health. I believed this lady is silently suffering and probably not intended to harm or scam others. I’m praying for her and her daughter.

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