This month, Los Angeles magazine tackles the imbroglio surrounding the once-heralded (and now discredited) genius in our backyard: Jonah Lehrer. In the piece, Lehrer speaks (via email) for the first time since issuing a statement about resigning from The New Yorker in July. Lehrer tells editor-at-large Amy Wallace that he is writing his own piece about “the mistake.” He also says many of the accusations against him are false.
Lehrer had a difficult summer. First the prolific author was found to have plagiarized himself in several blog posts for The New Yorker. Then Tablet magazine’s Michael C. Moynihan revealed that several Bob Dylan quotes in Lehrer’s best-selling book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, were either made up or distorted. Finally, an independent investigation commissioned by Wired magazine, one of Lehrer’s other employers, concluded that Lehrer has a history of ethical and factual transgressions.
In her piece, Wallace talks about the affair from the perspective of “those of us who pay our bills writing non-fiction” -- as Lehrer supposedly did. Analyzing the story surrounding the story, she explores what might be called the dark secret of journalism -- the temptation to cut corners when the clock is ticking and a story isn’t coming together as planned (a temptation that Lehrer clearly gave in to). As she laments, his legacy tarnishes everyone who tries to tell the truth. “Now even more readers will believe journalists really are willing—as the saying goes—to make stuff up to sell newspapers, magazines, books. Readers will distrust writers as much as our various detractors say they should. Lehrer’s sins soil not just his own reputation but those of his fellow journalists.”
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.