Korean pop star battles attacks on Stanford record

Sept. 27, 2010, 3:04 a.m.

Daniel Seon Woong Lee, better known in Korea as recording artist Tablo, graduated from Stanford with a seemingly uncontroversial record: two English degrees, a bachelor’s in 2001 and a master’s in 2002. But over the past six months, an Internet campaign has launched attacking Lee’s credentials and, he says, threatening him and his family.

Daniel Seon Woong Lee (far left) at his graduation ceremony in June, 2002. He received a master's degree in English through Stanford's co-term program in 2002. (Courtesy of Daniel Seon Woong Lee)

Lee, the frontman of premier Korean rap group Epik High, became aware of the allegations that he was not a Stanford graduate in March, when he began receiving threats to his Twitter account. The sources of the attacks were netizens–vocal participants in an online community–who question the validity of Lee’s Stanford degrees. An intervention from Stanford Registrar Tom Black and a letter from English professor Tobias Wolff did little to help stop the movement.

“Initially, we treated this as a routine check,” Black said. “But Lee is a moving target. Lee had an A average, and that’s the kind of thing they would stretch. Exaggerations get made when something like this goes viral.”

The campaign to discredit Lee’s degrees exploded. One of the largest antagonists, the netizen group “We Urge Tablo to Tell the Truth,” formed in May and now has more than 131,000 members, according to Korean journalist So-young Sung. The allegations range widely–that Lee has exaggerated his grade point average and that he claims he was best friends with Reese Witherspoon when she attended Stanford, for example.

“The Internet rumor was that my entire Stanford experience and all of my credentials are fraudulent,” Lee wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. “Over time, this allegation spawned many others–that my entire family is a fraud, that I’ve stolen and lived someone else’s identity, et cetera–and has escalated to the point where my entire existence is being questioned. Some of the allegations are even based on fabrications of what I’ve said or done…it’s all very confusing.”

Black said verifying a person’s degree from the University is not an unusual practice, but he has never seen a case this severe. Black released a copy of Lee’s transcript, and when that did not prove satisfactory, he wrote a letter vouching for Lee’s attendance and graduation. Recently, Black allowed camera crews to film him printing a degree to show that none of the process is fraudulent.

“I’ve tried to put all the resources that are permissible into this,” Black said, “because only I can officially attest to his completion.”

Black believes people are disputing the evidence because “they couldn’t absorb it.”

“I think they assume someone would put his education to better use,” he added.

“My full transcript and Stanford’s official verifications have been on the net since June,” Lee said. “I’ve tried to get the truth across, but it’s been strangely difficult to do so, and anybody who has tried to help me has been attacked in similar ways.”

Since Lee’s transcript was posted online, it has been viewed more than 16,000 times, according to Black.

During his time at Stanford, Lee staffed in Okada as an ethnic theme associate from 2000 to 2001 and worked at the CoHo, where he also performed music.

Nadinne Cruz, the Okada resident fellow during Lee’s time on campus, remembers him as “very polite and cooperative” and “a serious student of literature.”

She described him as a quiet soul with an interest in playwriting. His career choice was surprising to her, given his subdued personality and professed love for classical texts.

“We had conversations about the state of the world and the human condition,” Cruz said. “We talked about identity. He was a Korean from Canada studying in America. He lived in many different worlds.”

Lee pursued these questions through writing and published a book in 2008–“Pieces of You”–composed entirely of stories written during his time in college. Generally, Lee has not shied away from his Stanford experiences, speaking of them often in public appearances.

Sung, who writes for the JoongAng Daily and has followed the diploma story, said Korean entertainment agencies often market celebrities’ academic backgrounds. Lee’s tendency to discuss earning both of his degrees in four years through the English co-term program doesn’t seem plausible to many Koreans, Sung said.

Lee is not the first celebrity to be targeted by viral campaigns. Two Korean entertainers “killed themselves because of malicious comments posted by some netizens,” Sung wrote in an e-mail to The Daily, referring to Choi Jin-sil in 2008 and Uni in 2007.

“This Tablo case is very closely associated with Korea’s deep-rooted culture of judging someone by their educational background,” Sung added. “I think Tablo mentioned Stanford quite frequently whenever he appeared in TV shows…and that made some netizens jealous of him.”

The accusers’ obsession is so strong that Sung received a litany of aggressive e-mails and phone calls after conducting an interview with Lee that some readers viewed as too “cooperative.”

There appears to be little, if anything, that will placate Lee’s attackers. He and the netizens have taken legal action against one another, but Lee acknowledged that discovering the “truth” might not play any part in his accusers’ motives.

“Some have expressed that they want me, and my family, to disappear,” Lee said. “To a degree, they may have already achieved what they want.”

“I actually talked to one of those netizens and he didn’t even know Tablo received an electronic transcript from Stanford,” Sung said. “Nothing will satisfy them. I think they just want to believe what they want to believe.”

Black said that he does not think the netizens will stop asking questions. He has stopped responding to e-mails concerning Lee.

“It’s all just rumor and innuendo,” Black said. “It’s not truth they’re after. It’s just to ruin his life.”

Lee maintains that he is not angry and even waited several months before pursuing legal action. He hopes a documentary airing this weekend in Korea (“Tablo Goes to Stanford,” on Korean network MBC) will vindicate his reputation.

“I ask that you don’t develop the impression that what is happening to me is in any way a reflection of my homeland,” he said. “Korea has been host to some of the most beautiful moments of my life. The event discussed here only reflects the possible downside of social media anywhere.”

But a cultural divide still seems to remain.

“We think about global citizens,” Black said, “but sometimes the rest of the world isn’t ready for them.”

27 Responses

  1. http://joongangdaily.joins.com/_data/photo/_06/0611-2.jpg

    [ME 191] 98-99 Winter
    Engineering Problems and Experimental Investigation?
    http://sul-derivatives.stanford.edu/derivative?CSNID=00002257&mediaType=application/pdf (p193)

    [WCT 3A] 98-99 Winter
    Classes for student whose major is undeclared, or who are not majoring in English.
    http://sul-derivatives.stanford.edu/derivative?CSNID=00002257&mediaType=application/pdf (p333)

    [JAPANGEN 156] 98-99 Spring
    56. Japanese Cinema (not 156)?
    http://collections.stanford.edu/universitypublications/bin/object?00002257 (p243)

    [FRENLANG 60F] 00-01 Autumn

    [ENGLISH 190] ???
    1999-2000 Winter (A) http://collections.stanford.edu/universitypublications/bin/object?00002557 (p357)
    2000-2001 Winter (A) http://www.stanford.edu/dept/registrar/bulletin_past/bulletin00-01/pdf/English.pdf (p11)
    2001-2002 Autumn (A) http://www.stanford.edu/dept/registrar/bulletin_past/bulletin01-02/pdf/English.pdf (p12)
    * 190. Intermediate Fiction Writing—May be taken twice.

    [ENGLISH 165E] 99-00 Autumn
    THE INVENTION OF MIDDLE ENGLISH LITERATURE 1300-1400 / “1330” (bulletin)?
    http://sul-derivatives.stanford.edu/derivative?CSNID=00002557&mediaType=application/pdf (p466)

  2. Is this the official Stanford U’s paper? It’s hard to believe that an official newspaper of prestigious school like Stanford wouldn’t even check the sources before printing it as if all claimed by Tablo and his faction were true. I guess writers and editors took the easy way and skipped the source-checking, in part because what your Registrar and Tobias Wolff supposedly have said. Here’s tidbit for you. Tablo and his family are con artists. I wouldn’t dare begin to talk about what they’ve done since it’ll take hours. Literally. But what I’ll say is this: The debate has NEVER been whether Daniel Seon Woong Lee had graduated from Stanford. The debate has ALWAYS been whether Daniel Seon Woong Lee is Tablo. You might say, “Of course he is. Since if that were the case the real Daniel surely would’ve heard about it and alerted the School.” My answer would be a resounding no. The real Daniel would not alert the school or any other authority because he’s in on it. Now you might say I’m just being a conspiracy theorist. And I’d retort by asking you, how aware are you of “Broker” system in which they’d pay off the real graduates of prestigious schools like Stanford to keep their mouth shut while their degree(s) will then be used by someone else (Payer), usually out of US to eliminate any potential conflict at the Human Resources. The estimate number of people in the work force -usually high paying occupations- of South Korea alone is 50,000. And the numbers grows by the day. Allow me to conclude by letting you in on something. Tom Black -your registrar- and Tobias Wolff have NOT confirmed that Daniel Seon Woong Lee is in fact Tablo; Only that Daniel Seon Woong Lee has graduated from Stanford.

  3. Look at the photo. Can’t you see the outstanding evidences of fabrication? Color temperature as well as focus on his image is different from the others. How can we believe him?

  4. The photo looks fake to me… Besides that, just blame ‘netizen’ not gonna solve the issue. Crying like a baby not gonna work either this time. It grew out sort of unsolved mystery that deepened by his usual antics playing with media. Now, it became legal issue to set the record straight once and for all. Not much room for hiding behind mama so to speak… Just wait and see how mega-cries of the drama may unfold. Hey, it has been the best entertainment put out by this guy anyway, so back off little bit and ease up for this poor little guy!

  5. guys chill.let him be.if he’s fake then i guess that’s up to his conscience. if all he’s claiming is true then that’s good..this is 2010 guys..just cause he’s a celebrity….a lot of people out there have done this kind of thing as well or maybe worse.

  6. Sorry, Stanford. This is exactly what this article is referring to. Pay no attention to these half-baked losers. “Netizens” are already claiming that reporters for the Stanford Daily have been bribed, etc. Totally ludicrous accusations, not unlike those directed against Tablo. You’d be better off disabling the comment section if that’s possible.
    And “canada”, whoever you really are, don’t tarnish Canada’s good name with your stupid comment.

  7. http://joongangdaily.joins.com/_data/photo/_06/0611-2.jpg

    [ME 191] 98-99 Winter
    Engineering Problems and Experimental Investigation??
    http://sul-derivatives.stanford.edu/derivative?CSNID=00002257&mediaType=application/pdf (p193)

    [WCT 3A] 98-99 Winter
    Classes for student whose major is undeclared, or who are not majoring in English.??
    http://sul-derivatives.stanford.edu/derivative?CSNID=00002257&mediaType=application/pdf (p333)

    [JAPANGEN 156] 98-99 Spring
    56. Japanese Cinema (not 156)??
    http://collections.stanford.edu/universitypublications/bin/object?00002257 (p243)

    [FRENLANG 60F] 00-01 Autumn

    [ENGLISH 190] * 190. Intermediate Fiction Writing?May be taken twice??
    99-00 Winter (A) http://collections.stanford.edu/universitypublications/bin/object?00002557 (p357)
    00-01 Winter (A) http://www.stanford.edu/dept/registrar/bulletin_past/bulletin00-01/pdf/English.pdf (p11)
    01-02 Autumn (A) http://www.stanford.edu/dept/registrar/bulletin_past/bulletin01-02/pdf/English.pdf (p12)

    [ENGLISH 165E] 99-00 Autumn
    THE INVENTION OF MIDDLE ENGLISH LITERATURE 1300-1400 / “1330” (bulletin)??
    http://sul-derivatives.stanford.edu/derivative?CSNID=00002557&mediaType=application/pdf (p466)

  8. people…tablo is daniel lee. tablo attended stanford. tablo was a legit student.

    if you go to stanford and look through old “froshbooks” or “facebooks” which are physical yearbooks with pictures of all the incoming freshmen, the dorm they’re in, and their dorm staff, you’ll find tablo’s REAL picture under the name Dan Lee. these facebooks are part of stanford’s legacy. tablo’s picture & real name came be found not just in the class of 2002 facebook which was put out in 1998 when he was a freshman in Donner but also in the class of 2004 facebook which was put out in 2000 when tablo was staffing as an ETA in Okada. the pdf version used to be available on the stanford alumni site but they took them down or changed the link. but those books exist and he’s in them. and dont give me any BS about the photos in the facebook being photoshopped or fake. cause they’re not.

    also, read this stanford daily article from 2001: https://stanforddaily.com/2001/04/03/aasa-talent-show-to-be-bigger-and-better-than-ever-before/

    it mentions daniel lee and 4n Objectz, tablo’s old hip hop group. daniel lee can be no one else but tablo.

    the physical proof is all there. so everyone, quit wasting your time by questioning tablo’s academic credentials. and get a job.

  9. It’s surprising how low people would go due to their own lack of self confidence.. I wish Tablo happiness and luck with however he chooses to live his life.

  10. Why are people such morons? 3 years to finish a bachelor’s is not impossible (summer school), and you can finish a master’s degree in a year if you don’t do summer school (or less if you do). Also, the majors are directly related to each other–which means there could have been a double-degree accelerated program for people who knew what advanced degree they wanted to obtain.

    Just because it took someone 6+ years to do the same with their major doesn’t mean that it applies to ALL majors. It’s super sad that people on the internet can be so nosy and ignorant at the same time.

  11. Those people who questioned the credibility of one person are those ones that never see and act the value of their existence especially the person who’s been vindicated here has the capacity to contribute to the betterment of their country. I, myself, has always been criticized by my fellow acquaintances and even close friends about my pursuance of 2 different degrees in 2 different universities. First and foremost, it’s my choice and I’m extremely happy of what I’ve been doing. No one can’t impose to other human being on what one should do or to explain his/her actions just for the reason that some people cannot accept the truth that there individuals who are intellectually gifted.

  12. here are some of the things that “tablo” said that raised some doubts regarding his “stanford” years.
    1. he claims he never had to take the SAT to get into stanford. he said all he had to do was to submit his poem and that’s what got him in
    2. he said he was a classmate of chelsea clinton and reese witherspoon. records indicate that they couldn’t have been classmates(time wise). tablo also claimed that he hit secret service agents(chelsea’s bodyguards) with a sling shot but they couldn’t catch him because he ducked. but his friend got caught and had to be suspended from stanford for a month.
    3. he claims that he passed the CIA’s written exam to qualify as an official agent.(he holds canadian citizenship and never had u.s passort)
    4. he showed a transcript with daniel lee’s name on it. there was another student with the same name at stanford. he never proved to anyone that his student ID# , passport # or I-20 visa matched with that of transcript he submitted. it has been more than three years since he was asked to prove that they match. his excuse was that u.s is too far of a distance from korea to receive documents from stanford.
    5. when he visited stanford with the korean t.v crew, he never did anything to prove his claims. all he did was showed t.v crew where the cafeteria was and where he used to eat his lunch. thomas black told the t.v crew that daniel seon woong lee did graduate from the stanford, but he can’t verify that tablo is the same person as daniel seon woong lee.

  13. Point is Tablo can not prove that Daniel Sunwoong Lee is him. Even Stanford school system can’t prove it. If someone claims that he/she is a alumni of Stanford and provide a name of real alumni then that person really graduated Stanford? I don’t think so. There are so many people who play with fake degrees. 

  14. Look, I’m pretty sure that the very people who work at Stanford would know how he looks like. Or are you people so shackled by your own self-righteousness and opinions that you can’t handle the truths even when they are shown to you in hundreds of ways. I don’t know what led you to become so cynical as to not even believe real evidence. You say there’s no truth, yet this entire article shows that truth. Why must you people be so shackled by your own opinions that you can’t even stop to even look at another’s point of view and opinions?

  15. Tablo you fought hard for this, i’m sorry about all that you went through, and if you’re reading this, I hope you’re happy now that YG is with you. Woolim did nothing for you when you were in a time of need, and although I’m a fan of Epik High’s older stuff, i’m glad that you’re finally happy now.

  16. “I think they assume someone would put his education to better use”

    How was Tablo supposed to make better use of an English degree? Ignoring it is probably the best thing one can do with it.

  17. Tablo People are soo stupid. Dont pay attention to those morons out there that made ur life miserable. Ur my favorite Korean actor. So dont be depressed anymore cause theres more then me that love u. <3

  18. Aasadsd ur the one that sucks. you’re such an idiot. N ur life sucks too. So stop saying that mean comment.

  19. stupidity at it’s best. SAT is not necessary in the US as long as you pass. Any nationality can be a CIA agent, lol they do recruit anyone as long as they have the potential they required. all this refusal to accept his educational attainment is purely malicious and jealousy from losers.
    FYI, Ivy league schools can sue anyone claiming to be a fake alumni.
    the work of uneducated douche-bags.

  20. Jealousy and envy of the less educated. It seems their people hates Ivy leaguers.

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