That Jonah Lehrer Sure Is Making Print Journalism Make Bad

by evanmcmurry

Next time your friend/relative/coworker/whoever quacks about the blogotwittosphere degrading standards of truth in journalism, you mind remind them of this point:

Old school journalists sometimes complain that these days anybody can start a blog and declare herself a journalist without going through the school of hard knocks–no gruff city editor playing drill sergeant, etc. And it’s true that some journalistic virtues have become rarer. But I don’t think accuracy and honesty are among them. It’s apt that Jonah Lehrer’s fabrications happened in a very old and non-interactive medium–a book, which, even when in electronic form, has no comment section.

I’ll add that Lehrer’s previous indiscretions happened at the New Yorker (albeit in their online section), which is hardly amateurjournohack.com. (On the other hand.)

You could make the argument that blogging, etc., has lowered overall standards to the point that new media is corroding once venerable institutions, I guess. (This strikes me as oddly similar to the very strange anti-gay marriage argument that links same-sex marriage to increases in out-of-wedlock births as part of a general erosion of traditional family values.)

But I don’t buy it; Jonah Lehrer’s transgressions could have been committed at any point in the last century. If anything, as Michael Moynihan, the journalist who caught Lehrer’s false Dylan quotes, theorized, the prominence attributed to Lehrer by his books and gigs, the false glow that allowed him to get away with this for so long, might have been the very thing that prompted him to cheat in the first place. In other words, it was the big print gigs, not the small blogging gigs, that got him into trouble. An alternate theory, advanced by Hamilton Nolan, was that Lehrer didn’t understand the procedures of blogging, and may have screwed the pooch by condescending to the form.

Also, the article Moynihan was writing when he started digging deeper into Lehrer’s book? It was for Tablet, a “daily online magazine.” In this case, the online-onlys had the facts, and the printing press had the fabrications; any way you shake this thing, the supposedly-trustworthy print side of things comes off bad. Remind the “wah-Twitter” crowd of that, please.

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