Knight Foundation pays $20,000 to Jonah Lehrer for speech about his lies

Please enjoy this excruciating speech from fabricator and plagiarist Jonah Lehrer, a shit sandwich lovingly-prepared for journalism by the Knight Foundation. If the former Wired and New Yorker writer's contrition leaves a bad taste in everyone else's mouth but his own, it is because a) it's delivered in the same charming yet bland pop-sci literary style as his ersatz journalism ("a consistent asymmetry in the way I noticed error"), and b) the foundation paid him $20,000 to do it.

Perhaps it isn't too much to hope, one might ask, that everyone else will continue to see through him? But, ah, protip, he'll be rehabilitated soon enough. What is journalism, if not a stepping stone to greater things?

Plagiarism Pays: Jonah Lehrer Gets $20,000 for Speech [NYT]
Jonah Lehrer Thinks He Can Humblebrag His Way Back Into Journalism [Forbes]

Update: The foundation tweeted that paying Lehrer to speak "was a mistake".


  1. Yeah, I would say that making twenty-thousand for being an asshole leaves a “bad taste” in my mouth.

    Shit, I could talk about being an asshole eight-hours-a-day for a month for that much money, and I’d still have plenty of material afterward. I’m starting to think Mr. Lehrer isn’t the only asshole in this story.

  2. Wait, and to heap on…did Forbes just use the word “humblebrag” in a headline?  What’s next, them using butthurt when talking about political fights?

  3. I like how Radiolab still has a post up that says “The notion that Jonah is a “plagiarist” is beyond ridiculous.” then another that says “Hey, we checked all our shows that Jonah worked on, and they’re still alright. Well, we might have had to change a couple of them.” No “we were wrong” or “he fooled us, too”. Just “he’s our pal, and we don’t think he lied to *us*, anyway”. Can’t wait to hear this week’s repeat: “Lies, liars, and lie catchers. And the strange power of lying to yourself. Deception is on-air across the country this week.”

  4. That’s cool… but KITT could have probably used an updated rear spoiler instead. Or maybe Onstar.

  5. After Lehrer got caught I suspected that he might be a beneficiary of what I call the “Glass Floor.” Looks like that’s happened.

    The term is one I thought of back in my dot-com days, when I frequently saw it in action. It’s an analogue to the famous “Glass Ceiling,” the invisible and unspoken barrier which prevents advancement in organisations beyond a certain level for certain people (usually those with duskier skin hues or vaginas).

    The “Glass Floor,” conversely, ensures that certain individuals (usually white, usually with penises) will *never* be allowed to fail, no matter how much they screw up, no matter their congenital incompetence. The worst that can happen after one of their inevitable debacles is temporary stasis, but more often they’re rewarded with promotions, more money, etc.

    Exactly why this happens I’m not sure. A lot of it comes down to social connections and the salesman’s superficial charm and ability for self-promotion, I know. But I’m betting a lot of it has to do with the fact that the people propping him up have invested so much of their own reputations in the screw-up that if he’s allowed to crash and burn their credibility will suffer, too.

    So you’re correct, Rob, this grifter is only going on to greater things.

  6. Oh for fuck’s sake.

    Hey, Knight Foundation.  I was the man on the grassy knoll, I created Harry Potter, I killed Osama bin Laden, and I was the one who cancelled Star Trek.  As a special bonus, I also just cribbed a line from The Simpsons and attempted to pass it off as my own.

    If you need more lies before you are willing to give me twenty thousand dollars, I will be happy to think of some.

  7. OK, folks, help me out: I’m trying to determine the source of the closing Bob Dylan quote that he ‘actually said’, “Failure is both necessary and terrible.” I Googled it, and that only circled back to this speech. 

    (a) Legit quote, or (b) can the guy just not help himself, or (c) was he snickering to himself on the way out?

    1. I can only hope that Lehrer fabricated this final quote in his public apology. It would be the cherry on top.

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