A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

“Death, fire, and burglary make all men equals.” —Dickens

Tag: jonah lehrer

I Am Right About Everything Always, But Especially About Jonah Lehrer

by evanmcmurry

Not that this was especially difficult to call, but exactly one month ago I bet this blog’s annual budget that Jonah Lehrer’s fabrication of a Bob Dylan quote was only the beginning of his journalistic malfeasance, rather than its limit, as Lehrer himself was claiming. And what a beginning it was: according to an NYU science journalism professor hired by Wired* to scour their own Lehrer archives for violations, Lehrer’s journalistic misdeeds approach 100% of his work.

Bonus: draw whatever links you’d like to this story of up to 125 instances of cheating in an Intro Government class at Harvard.

* Yes, I know that rhymed.

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.

Get Ready For More Jonah Lehrer Fabrications

by evanmcmurry

So this happened:

Three weeks ago, I received an email from journalist Michael Moynihan asking about Bob Dylan quotes in my book ‘Imagine.’ The quotes in question either did not exist, were unintentional misquotations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes. But I told Mr. Moynihan that they were from archival interview footage provided to me by Dylan’s representatives. This was a lie spoken in a moment of panic. When Mr. Moynihan followed up, I continued to lie, and say things I should not have said. The lies are over now. –Jonah Lehrer

Something tells me the lies are not over. Plagiarism/fabrication tends to happen in chunks. Stephen Glass didn’t just fabricate the story for which he was caught; he fabricated dozens of them. Whether compulsivity is endemic to plagiarizing/fabricating, or whether the first act of dishonesty is a kind of sin of no return, nobody plagiarizes/fabricates once. Sure enough, the initial Jonah Lehrer scandal—self-plagiarizing in a New Yorker blog post—was quickly followed up by revelations of many more. I’d expect the same thing to happen over the next few weeks as people pick over his books and start tracing the sources of the quotes. I’ll bet A Flea’s annual budget that these quotes are not the only ones Lehrer fabricated.

More: As has already been thoroughly covered on Twitter, don’t falsely attribute quotes to one of the most studied and obsessed-over figures of the Twentieth Century. You’re gonna get caught.

More: Here’s the interview with the journalist who caught Lehrer. Moynihan comes off as a generous, empathic, but ultimately firm critic of Lehrer.

More: Somebody on Twitter asked about a refund for their copy of Imagine. Seemed like your standard smart-ass tweet at the time, but remember that Lehrer made a tidy fortune through speaking gigs, in addition to books and columns. If he was passing off fake quotes at those gigs, shouldn’t the people/companies/foundations/universities get their money back?