How many journalists directly contacted Jonah Lehrer about fabrication, plagiarism accusations?

Jonah Lehrer told Los Angeles Magazine’s Amy Wallace that reporters following the story of his downfall had abandoned the basic tenets of journalism: “Despite the avalanche of coverage, he said, I was only the third person to contact him for comment.”

That statement presented the media-reporting establishment with an unbearable irony: Had journalists bypassed a basic mechanism of journalism while writing about another journalist’s alleged sins?

Part of the problem with looking at something like this is that Lehrer had people speaking on his behalf. His website lists only contact information for his publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and his speaking agency. Read more


7 ways to make your work easy to fact check

Recent media incidents involving fabrication, plagiarism and untruthsJonah Lehrer, Fareed Zakaria and Niall Ferguson — have underscored the importance of keeping one’s facts straight and making them easy for others to check.

Each case demonstrated what good fact checking could have done:

  • Jonah Lehrer: Prevent fabrication
  • Fareed Zakaria: Help keep writers from inadvertently plagiarizing others
  • Niall Ferguson: Stop falsehoods from entering the public discourse, where once released, they often spread farther than their corrections

In all these cases, fact checking prevents damage to the publication’s credibility, and helps avert further erosion of the public trust in journalism. For writers, getting the facts right (plus, not stealing other people’s work) can only help a career.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor at The Atlantic who wrote in defense of fact checkers after the Ferguson incident, says, “Fact checkers will save your life. Read more

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Yale Daily News finds errors, problematic quotes, but no fabrication in Liane Membis’ work

The Yale Daily News has completed its review of reporting by Liane Membis, a former staff reporter who was fired from an internship at the Wall Street Journal this summer after fabricating quotes from sources in several stories. (The Huffington Post also removed a Membis piece for the same reason.)

After investigating 35 reported articles written by Membis between 2009 and 2010, the News found no evidence of fabrication in her work. All sources quoted were real people, but three of them raised concerns about the way their words were represented. The paper’s fact-checking process also uncovered several errors in Membis’ work.

As with the recent plagiarism at The State Press at Arizona State University, the Yale paper did a good job of investigating previous work and sharing the results with readers. Read more


Wired.com investigator on latest Jonah Lehrer plagiarism: ‘I think the safety net has eroded’

Longtime science journalist Charles Seife was vaguely familiar with Jonah Lehrer’s work before Wired.com asked him two weeks ago to investigate a sample of blog posts for plagiarism, fabrication and other shortcuts.

“I didn’t have any pre-existing thoughts that this was a bad journalist,” Seife said by phone Friday night. “You go in really trying to prove innocence rather than guilt.”

But Seife found problems in 17 of the 18 blog posts he reviewed. In three of those posts, Lehrer plagiarized from other writers, in five he used verbatim portions of press releases, and in 14 posts he recycled his own writing from previously published pieces. It was this recycling, first reported by Jim Romenesko on June 19, that started the cascade of investigations and revelations about Lehrer’s books and his work for The New Yorker and Wired. Read more


Wired severs ties with Jonah Lehrer after investigator finds 22 more examples of plagiarism, recycling

Slate | Wired
Wired.com asked NYU journalism professor Charles Seife to investigate Jonah Lehrer’s work for the website after it was revealed that the writer had recycled some of his own material for New Yorker posts and had fabricated quotes in one of his books. For reasons that are unclear, Wired.com did not publish the results of Seife’s investigation, but Slate did.

Seife reviewed 18 posts and found 14 instances in which Lehrer recycled his own work, five posts that included material directly from press releases, three posts that plagiarized from other writers, four posts with problematic quotations and four that had problematic facts. Here’s a table summarizing his findings: Read more


Timeline of Jonah Lehrer plagiarism, fabrication revelations

June 19: Jim Romenesko reported that Jonah Lehrer recycled material for a New Yorker story
June 19: Joe Coscarelli published additional examples of Lehrer recycling material in New Yorker blog posts
June 19: Jacob Silverman found examples of Lehrer recycling in stories for The New York Times
June 20: Edward Champion published a comprehensive catalog of Lehrer’s recycling
June 20: Lehrer apologized for recycling his own material
June 21: New Yorker editor David Remnick said, “…if he were making things up or appropriating other people’s work that’s one level of crime.”
July 30: Michael Moynihan revealed fabricated Bob Dylan quotes in Lehrer’s “Imagine”
July 30: Lehrer resigned from The New Yorker Read more


Why the emphasis on young, promising journalists who plagiarize or fabricate?

Usually after an article of mine is published, I go back and reread it several times over the next 48 hours. This is mostly a masochistic exercise. I cringe over inelegant sentences and other things I failed to see and improve the first time.

Sometimes, however, I go back to a piece because the feedback I received sticks with me. That’s the case with my recent post, “4 warning signs that a promising young writer may be developing dangerous habits.”

The comments on the post were spirited and interesting, and other journalists used it as a jumping off point for their own thoughts. My Poynter colleague Roy Peter Clark suggested we could better prevent plagiarism and fabrication if newsrooms began instituting random checks of content. Read more

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Another source claims Lehrer misconduct: ‘I know I didn’t say’ half of that

WhatIWannaKnow.com | Michael Moynihan | Slate
Milton Glaser, the artist best known for inventing the “I ♥ NY” logo, tells interviewer Ryan Kohls he never said half of what Jonah Lehrer attributed to him in his book “Imagine.” He also calls Lehrer’s behavior “self-sabotage.”

Well, it was so odd the whole thing. First off, I felt so sad for the poor guy. Here he was, his future guaranteed, top of the world working for the New Yorker, writing a book that had already sold 200,000 copies, and he shot himself. How could he have done that knowing it was inevitable he would be discovered? What kind of madness? Why would anybody do that? The self-sabotage to that degree was incomprehensible. I looked back at what I had said and half of it I know I didn’t say.

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Pity Wired’s fact-checkers if Jonah Lehrer writes again for the magazine

Update: BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith broke the news Wednesday that Wired is keeping confessed fabricator, problematic science writer, and self-plagiarist Jonah Lehrer on contract.

Wired spokesman Jonathan Hammond told the site that Lehrer had “a couple of pieces that were already in the works” and was expected to contribute in the future.

Based on that information, I examined what this meant for the magazine’s fact-checking department, as did The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple. The original version of this post remains below, but parts of it have been eclipsed by a new statement, issued by Wired Managing Editor Jacob Young, that contradicts what Hammond said:

[Lehrer] has no current assignments. After gathering the facts–from our inquiry and elsewhere–we’ll make a decision about whether Jonah’s byline will appear again at WIRED.

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How to handle plagiarism and fabrication allegations

Editors often call us in a panic. A reader or another journalist has shown them credible evidence that one of their writers has plagiarized the work of others or, more rarely, suggested that sources, quotes or other information are fabricated.

The way an organization responds to plagiarism or fabrication can affect its relationship with its community, its staff, and its standing in the profession. The right response can help build or maintain trust. A weak response fuels distrust.

With that in mind, here’s a guide to handling an incident or plagiarism or fabrication.

Before an incident occurs

Review newsroom policy regarding attribution, plagiarism and fabrication. Does one exist? Is it current? Who manages it? If need be, bring it up to date by designating a person or newsroom committee to take ownership. Read more

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