What’s worse: fabricating sources as an intern for the Wall Street Journal, or fabricating quotes from one of the world’s most famous singers as a staff writer at The New Yorker and published author?
The New Yorker writer and author of Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer, has been tight-lipped in recent weeks. First, he was accused of recycling his own work, sometimes verbatim, in other stories. Lehrer was publicly scolded by fellow media, and privately reprimanded by NewYorker.com editor Nicholas Thompson. The controversy prompted a conversation on whether self-plagiarism is acceptable in journalism.
But on Monday afternoon, Lehrer resigned from his position at The New Yorker for blatantly breaking a journalist’s code of ethics.
An article by Michael C. Moynihan in the online magazine Tablet reported that Lehrer admitted to fabricating quotes in Imagine, from Bob Dylan no less. Lehrer released a statement explaining his transgression and apologizing:
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. I understand the gravity of my position. I want to apologize to everyone I have let down, especially my editors and readers. I also owe a sincere apology to Mr. Moynihan. I will do my best to correct the record and ensure that my misquotations and mistakes are fixed. I have resigned my position as staff writer at The New Yorker.
If we’ve learned anything from this, it’s one thing to use your own words over and over without indicating that they aren’t fresh; it’s another thing to make up quotes to attribute to the notoriously media-cagey Bob Dylan.
Forbes reports that while nearly every major news organization has had a scandal involving faked sources or quotes, The New Yorker has generally stayed clean. Their last major scandal was in the 1970s when Penelope Gilliat, a film critic, plagiarized a profile of author Graham Greene.
Lehrer’s publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have already pulled the book from both physical and digital shelves.