Jayson Blair on Jonah Lehrer fabrications: ‘There’s probably more than what we’ve seen so far’

Salon | The Daily Beast | The Wrap | BuzzFeed | The New York Times
Because he fabricated quotes from Bob Dylan, Jonah Lehrer left his job at The New Yorker, and his publisher is recalling his book. The pain of those consequences will likely fade with time. (The public-radio show Radiolab, which defended Lehrer strongly when he was accused of mere self-plagiarism, has not weighed in.) What may not ebb is Lehrer’s gift to writers discussing fabulism: His name will forever be typed beside those of famous fabulists Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair.

Salon’s David Daley spoke with Blair, who said Lehrer’s fall “rings so familiar“:

Once you’re young and successful, I think, in this profession you’re only as good as your last story — and you want every story to be better. I think when you’re young and you’re immature — well, I’m unclear on why he did it, but when you’re young and immature, it’s just very difficult, I think, to resist temptation.


Blair also talks about the psychology of fabulizing, and guesses “there’s probably more than what we’ve seen so far” vis-a-vis Lehrer’s work.

But the most eviscerating piece of it is knowing what’s about to come — knowing that colleagues who are perhaps some of the best journalists around are about to put the same scrutiny they put on government and companies onto your work.

In a piece for The Daily Beast published Tuesday morning, Blair explained his empathy a little more: “Nine years ago,” he writes, “I was Jonah Lehrer.”

His story is familiar to me in many of its details. A promising young journalist working at one of the most prestigious publications in the world heads down a slippery slope that starts with sloppy corner-cutting and leads to all-out fabrication.

“To me, it’s just so sad that it keeps happening with these talented young men,” USC Annenberg’s School of Journalism director Geneva Overholser told The Wrap’s Alexander C. Kaufman. “It happened with Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair and, now, Jonah Lehrer.”

Glass’s transgressions are, for now, at least, far worse” than Lehrer’s, Adam Penenberg told BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray. Penenberg busted Glass when he was an editor at Forbes. Gray tried to get a “number of other noted plagiarists and fabulists” to respond, but Blair wasn’t available, nor were “Mike Daisey, Rob Sgobbo, [Johann] Hari, and Mike Barnicle.” Janet Cooke said no, as did Patricia Smith.

But that diverse group of people doesn’t fit the Blair-Glass-Lehrer narrative as easily. Columbia University professor Todd Gitlin told The New York Times’ Julie Bosman that Lehrer’s type — young, smart hotshot rocketing into the media’s upper echelons — mattered when it came to perpetrating his deceptions.

Conjure me up a guy who talks science winningly, who shows you that everything is transparent, and does it in a self-help-y spirit,” he said. “In our age, a guy who looks cute and wonky is better positioned to get away with this than others.”

Previously: Jonah Lehrer resigns from New Yorker after fabricating Bob Dylan quotes in ‘Imagine’ | Journalist feels ‘horrible’ about revealing Jonah Lehrer’s fabrications

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • Anonymous

    This is Lehrer’s responsibility, but publishers and editors need to examine their own willful gullibility that undermines the credibility of their pages and sites. Even outstanding authors and journalists need time to think. No one individual, however outstanding, can have original, meaningful insights while turning out a best-seller each year and tweeting, lecturing and writing articles and appearing on tv. Brand name glitteratti grow so big they fail, with predictable regularity. Mark Halperin of Time/MSNBC is another example of this theme. So is Doris Kearns Goodwin. Jonah Lehrer was effectively being groomed to succeed them.

  • Anonymous

    This is Lehrer’s responsibility, but publishers and editors need to examine their own willful gullibility that undermines the credibility of their pages and sites. Even outstanding authors and journalists need time to think. No one individual, however outstanding, can have original, meaningful insights while turning out a best-seller each year and tweeting, lecturing and writing articles and appearing on tv. Brand name glitteratti, even middle-aged ones, grow so big they fail with predictable regularity. Mark Halperin of Time/MSNBC is another example of this theme. So is Doris Kearns Goodwin. 

  • Anonymous

    This is Lehrer’s responsibility, but publishers and editors need to examine their own willful gullibility that undermines the credibility of their pages and sites. Even outstanding authors and journalists need time to think. No one individual, however outstanding, can have original, meaningful insights while turning out a best-seller each year and tweeting, lecturing and writing articles and appearing on tv. Brand name glitteratti grow so big they fail, with predictable regularity. Mark Halperin of Time/MSNBC is another example of this theme. So is Doris Kearns Goodwin. 

  • Anonymous

    Pathetic. You have to interview Jason Blair for insight into Jonah Lehrer? Blain, it became clear, wasn’t ever serious about journalism. He wanted to be in the limelight. It’s only time before he and Lehrer are teamed on some reality show purporting to be about journalism. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1638444194 David Hanners

    “…when you’re young and immature, it’s just very difficult, I think, to resist temptation.”

    Well, no, it isn’t difficult. Thousands of journalists young and old, mature and “immature,” resist the temptation every day. When you’ve decided you’d rather be “successful” than ethical then, yes, resisting temptation is passe. But it has nothing to do with youth or maturity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Berman/100000669729095 Dan Berman

    and why do we listen to Jayson Blair?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Berman/100000669729095 Dan Berman

    and why do we listen to Jayson Blair?