Jonah Lehrer

The Internet is totally cool with Jonah Lehrer’s book deal

Good morning. Here are 10 media stories.

  1. Jonah Lehrer gets a new book deal

    Penguin Random House will publish the disgraced writer's new book with Shlomo Benartzi, "The Digital Mind: How We Think and Behave Differently on Screens," in May. (AP) | It's interesting who gets another bite at the apple, isn't it, especially a day after Hanna Rosin's story about Stephen Glass' diminished life. | To wit, remember when the Knight Foundation paid Lehrer $20,000 to talk about his intellectual dishonesty? | "Fingers crossed that in this case, co-authorship really just means that Lehrer was a glorified line editor, or better yet, a publicity stunt to boost sales." (New York) | "Last we heard of ol' Jo, he had sold a book about the redemptive power of love to Simon & Schuster. 'We believe in second chances,' Simon & Schuster editor Jonathan Karp told the Times. It was then revealed that Lehrer had plagiarized that proposal." (Gawker)

  2. Student paper runs article by rapist

    The University of Oregon's Daily Emerald ran a guest piece called "Memoirs of a student-criminal" on Nov. 3. Its author talks about what led to his conviction for sexual assault. (Daily Emerald) "The sexual assault offender was actually legally required to write it and submit it to the paper." (College Media Matters) | "Never once does the author mention the fact that his actions—and the actions of all rapists—produced intensely damaging results for the survivor." (Daily Emerald)

  3. People distrust news outlets they don't read or watch

    Pew's recent report on how political affiliation affects media habits asked people how much they trusted certain outlets. But "this sense of trust or distrust may not actually stem from an individual’s recent exposure to news content. Instead, it may flow from any other information they may have about the news source – whether that comes from friends, family, other media or a past experience with it." (Pew) | Related: Trust "is something you earn over time," BuzzFeed EIC Ben Smith says after release of the Pew report. (Poynter)

  4. "Pointergate" update

    Navell Gordon, who KSTP asserted was flashing gang signs with Minneapolis' mayor, says his boss told reporter Jay Kolls to "kick rocks" when he sought comment on the station's ludicrous story. Kolls "thought he had a big story. And now it's really a big story," Gordon says. (HuffPost) | Jon Tevlin: "The allegation was so ludicrous that two reporters at the Star Tribune ignored it after it was pitched to one of them by someone in law enforcement. But Kolls, seeing a sensational story, bit." (Star Tribune)

  5. The best beat in (marble) Washington

    "I think the best reporting gig in Washington is Capitol Hill, not the White House," Chuck Todd says. "There's more freedom on Capitol Hill. Five-hundred-and-thirty-five members up there, most of whom only -- don't have an entire team of people that are designed to keep the press away from them." (The Diane Rehm Show) | Unsolicited and unnecessary editorial comment from newsletter author: Actually, the best beats in Washington have nothing to do with Congress or the White House.

  6. Jose Antonio Vargas will make new documentary

    Planned film for MTV "will examine what it means to be young and white in America." (Deadline)

  7. New OC Register publisher asks staffers to field calls from frustrated subscribers

    Rich Mirman's "move isn't sitting well with reporters and editors." (OC Weekly)

  8. Some AJC reporters frustrated with two-site strategy

    "Everything's behind the damn paywall. ... It's harder and harder to find our stuff on the free site," one brave anonymous Atlanta Journal-Constitution employee tells Max Blau. Mark Medici, the AJC's VP of audience, notes it costs only $3.39 per week for the Sunday paper and digital access. (Creative Loafing) | The AJC's free site just got redesigned; Cox Media Group plans similar redesigns for its free sites in Austin, Palm Beach and Dayton. (MediaPost)

  9. Front page of the day, curated by Kristen Hare

    The St. Louis Post-Dispatch fronts Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's plans for whatever follows the grand jury's decision on indicting Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. (Courtesy the Newseum)


  10. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin

    Simone Oliver is now growth editor at The New York Times. Previously, she was online fashion editor there. (The New York Times) | Tessa Gould will be vice president of ad innovation and monetization at BuzzFeed. Previously, she was director of native advertising at The Huffington Post. (Adweek) | Susan Ellerbach is now executive editor at The Tulsa World. Previously, she was managing editor there. Mike Strain will be managing editor at The Tulsa World. Previously, he was news editor there. (Tulsa World) | Henri Cauvin is now city editor at The New York Times. Previously, he was assistant metro editor there. (@FrancesRobles) | Gerry Smith will be a media reporter at Bloomberg. Previously, he was a technology reporter at The Huffington Post. (‏@srabil) | Chael Sonnen is now a UFC analyst at ESPN. Previously, he was a UFC middleweight and light heavyweight contender. (ESPN) | Noah Bond is now an anchor at KOLO in Reno, Nevada. Previously, he was a reporter at KOMO in Seattle. (Email) | Job of the day: KUSA in Denver is looking for a managing editor. Get your résumés in! (Journalism Jobs) | Send Ben your job moves:

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In a conversation with New Republic writer Isaac Chotiner, New Yorker Editor David Remnick said “the idea that what brought Jonah down was faked Dylan quotes is an irony. But it wasn’t in our magazine.” Chotiner asks about “the pop science that you publish.”

To make the leap that somehow what Malcolm [Gladwell] does leads directly to the ultimately sad story with Jonah Lehrer is itself fake science. The fact that Malcolm is a terrific storyteller and is willing to do this thing that no one else was doing—you may not like it, but there is nothing in my mind fake about it. I find it at its best thrilling. And when he started doing this no one else was. I think Malcolm is an original.

Isaac Chotiner, The New Republic


Publisher pulls second Lehrer book

The Daily Beast | The New York Times

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will stop selling Jonah Lehrer’s 2010 book “How We Decide,” Michael Moynihan reports.

After an internal review uncovered significant problems with the book, the publisher is “taking How We Decide off-sale” and has “no plans to reissue it in the future,” HMH senior vice president Bruce Nichols said in an email.

Moynihan discovered Lehrer had fabricated quotes by Bob Dylan in his 2012 book “Imagine,” which Harcourt pulled last summer.

Moynihan says Nichols didn’t enumerate the issues the publisher had with “How We Decide” but notes that an interview Lehrer claimed to have conducted with United Capt. Al Haynes was nearly identical to a speech Haynes gave in 1991.

Even after the Dylan fiasco, after Imagine had been pulped, and after he publicly declared that the “lies were over now,” Lehrer told me via email that he had indeed interviewed Haynes—providing an email thread of their initial communication—and that the pilot had said the exact same thing, in the exact same language, to him 20 years later.

In what Leslie Kaufman describes as a “terse e-mail,” a Harcourt spokesperson told her “We do plan to continue to sell [Lehrer's 2008 book] ‘Proust Was a Neuroscientist.’ ”

Previously: Why Jonah Lehrer’s ‘Imagine’ is worth reading, despite the problems | Jonah Lehrer resigns from New Yorker after fabricating Bob Dylan quotes in ‘Imagine’ | Plagiarism, more fake interviews in Jonah Lehrer’s books | Jonah Lehrer earns $20,000 honorarium for talking about plagiarism at Knight lunch | Jonah Lehrer apologizes, makes everyone angrier Read more

1 Comment

Knight Foundation says it was a mistake to pay Jonah Lehrer $20,000

At a Knight Foundation lunch Tuesday, Jonah Lehrer apologized for plagiarism, fabrication and other ethical lapses in his articles and books. Now the Knight Foundation is apologizing for paying Lehrer $20,000 to speak at that lunch. Knight reveals that it invited Lehrer to speak after he had already lost jobs with The New Yorker and Wired for repeatedly misrepresenting his work as original: Read more


It’ll take a village to redeem Jonah Lehrer, not just repentance

Jonah Lehrer played to his strengths Tuesday when he lectured and apologized at a Knight Foundation lunch. But in his extended examination of conscience, he lost sight of his own flaws and missed his opportunity to really explain and remedy what happened in his spectacular downfall.

Lehrer concluded that he needs rules, and he will in the future impose rigid rules of fact-checking on himself to avoid the mistakes he made. “Standard operating procedures will one day restore the trust I have lost,” he said.

I don’t think the rules are enough. Lehrer needs a community. He needs a group of peers, of equals, to challenge his ego and inspire his creativity.

His speech Tuesday was at times like reading a good Lehrer article. He explained the pathology of scientific weakness and human self-deception. He quoted Charles Darwin and told a story about tragic and avoidable mistakes made by FBI forensics experts.

But the mistakes he described were mistakes of “confirmation bias,” the kind of mistakes you make when you think you know what the answer is and as a result, you dismiss contradictory evidence. And sure, journalists have that problem.

But Lehrer’s problems were creativity failures. In his quest to become the great science writer he set out to be, he fabricated stuff. He copied work from himself and others and passed it off as genuinely new and original.

The disconnect between what he did and how he proposes to redeem himself was difficult to spot, because at the beginning of his speech, Lehrer gave an accurate litany of his transgressions:

I’m the author of a book on creativity that contains several fabricated Bob Dylan quotes. I committed plagiarism on my blog, taking without credit or citation an entire paragraph from the blog of Christian Jarrett. I’ve plagiarized from myself. I lied to a journalist named Michael Moynihan to covered up the Dylan fabrications.

Yet, as the speech went on, Lehrer told stories of scientific failures that were not the result of outright deceptions; they were failures of self-delusion. The failures that Lehrer suggests were parallel to his own, like the FBI agents who mistakenly who locked up an innocent man as a result of bad fingerprint analysis, were not the same.

Lehrer said his own examination of his flaws started with an attempt to describe and name what “part” was broken. His conclusion:

My arrogance, my desire for attention, my willingness to take shortcuts (provided I don’t think anyone else will notice), my carelessness matched with the ability to explain my carelessness away, my tendency to believe my own excuses.

These are all flaws that many journalists struggle with. This list would work if he had repeatedly misinterpreted data or accidentally attributed a real quote to the wrong person. But Lehrer didn’t do that. He wrote sentences down, put quote marks around them and attributed them to Bob Dylan. An entire paragraph written by another person made its way into his work. Other sentences and paragraphs were recycled and posited as originals.

While a rigid fact-checking system, a “standard operating procedure,” as he called it, might catch such deceptions in the future before they make it into publication, it won’t address the underlying problem of dishonesty.

Knight Foundation President and CEO Alberto Ibargüen’s first question to Lehrer laid bare the flaws in Lehrer’s thinking. Ibargüen asked Lehrer about the role arrogance played in his downfall, and he pushed Lehrer to draw a parallel to the arrogance granting organizations in the audience might succumb to when funding new projects.

Lehrer replied that his problems stemmed from a disinterest in grappling with his mistakes. He returned to Darwin’s method of confronting confirmation bias. Lehrer’s inability to completely label his own failure is a liability.

During his prepared remarks, he told a story about some research he was reporting on that suggests that everybody cheats, given the opportunity. Looking back, he told the audience that he was blind to his own flaws, using the detachment of the third person to condemn others as weak because, “It’s all too easy to shade the truth … to engage in the dirty business of rationalization.”

That revelation, he said, led him to his remedy.

“If I’m going to regain some semblance of self-respect, then I need the help of others,” he said. “I need my critics to tell me what I’ve gotten wrong if only so that I can show myself that I am willing to listen. That is the test that matters, not the absence of error, but a willingness to deal with it.”

With this statement, Lehrer comes so close. But rather than tapping into the necessity of human relationships in the creative process, he assigns them the role of policing his work.

Communities provide a constant loop of feedback, not just on the product heading for publication, but on the method for coming up with ideas, on the ideas themselves and on the behavior that we exhibit as we execute the research and writing.

That’s why many solo writers seek out communities of other writers, to test their drafts. We’ve all got flaws that we are constantly in the process of addressing. Those flaws turn into fatal flaws when no one is challenging you on them, or you accumulate so much power you can easily dismiss your critics, especially the ones who know and love you.

Rules are great for setting a base level of expectations in journalism. Get things right, correct them when you get them wrong. Check your quotes. Allow your sources and other experts to give you feedback on the premise of your work. Those are rules that provide for a lowest common denominator of expectations.

But rules won’t help anyone address their most fatal flaws. For that, we need relationships with other human beings, editors, work friends, writing colleagues. Because writing is inherently isolating and can make us insecure, it’s easier to go solo, distancing ourselves from these relationships. And I suspect that’s the path that Lehrer found most comfortable.

Community — close friends, colleagues, cyber acquaintances — serve better as partners than as a police force. Read more

1 Comment

Jonah Lehrer apologizes, makes everyone angrier

The Washington Post | The Atlantic Wire | BuzzFeed | The Week | New York | Slate | Flavorwire | Forbes
Jonah Lehrer’s speech Tuesday at a Knight Foundation seminar “turned out to be significantly more about himself than I had expected,” Knight President Alberto Ibargüen told The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple. But the speech, Ibargüen said, contained themes of “trust and arrogance and groupthink and the appeal of inconvenient ideas that are still relevant” to the assembled community-group leaders ostensibly there to “explore the topic of community information needs.”

The speech was live-streamed over the Internet, though, winning it an audience keen to gawk at the former New Yorker and Wired writer’s first post-plagiarism-scandal public appearance. That outside-inside dynamic was cast in stark relief on an onstage screen displaying tweets about the speech. “Said tweets were critical,” J.K. Trotter understates in an Atlantic Wire post, collecting a few. A headline on a post by BuzzFeed’s John Herrman called the spectacle “The Final Humiliation Of Jonah Lehrer.” And one on Chris Gayomali’s post about the speech in The Week called Lehrer’s appearance a “bizarre digital flogging.” Read more


Jonah Lehrer falls into familiar pattern, fails to face his reckoning

In recent years, though certainly not recently, many conference attendees have heard Jonah Lehrer speak about how our brains and our personal interactions affect our behaviours in interesting and surprising ways.

During his talk at a Knight Foundation event Tuesday, it was much of the same.

Lehrer cited research and anecdotes to lay out a case for why he fabricated and plagiarized multiple times in his work as a journalist. He mentioned the FBI’s standard operating procedures (SOPs), airplane safety measures, and how some machines and systems are built to “force” their human operators to avoid mistakes, rather than make them.

He also spoke about himself in the context of all the research about why we fail, why we make mistakes, and why we can be blind to them.

Much like before, Lehrer spoke with a seeming command of the subject matter. He made complex ideas simple and engaging. And this time, unlike those before, he added a deeply personal component:

I wanted to understand the mechanics of every lapse, to relive all those errors that led to my disgrace. I wanted to understand so I could explain it to people, so I could explain it in a talk like this, so I could say I found the broken part and that part has a name. My arrogance; my desire for attention; my willingness to take shortcuts (provided I don’t think anyone else will notice); my carelessness, matched with an ability to excuse my carelessness away; my tendency to believe my own excuses. But then, once I came up with this list of flaws, once I began to understand how these flaws led to each of my mistakes, I realized that all of my explanations changed nothing. They cannot undo what I’ve done, not even a little.

It wasn’t worth $20,000, but it was classic Lehrer. And what a troubling thing it was to watch.

Lehrer went looking for answers in the same places he used to mine for his articles and books — research papers, cognitive science, and in seemingly surprising places, such as the FBI. He drew oversimplified and in some cases incorrect conclusions about what he found. Then he packaged it all into a polished story, and cashed a nice cheque in the process.

It’s all too familiar, and worst of all I think Lehrer is completely ignorant of the fact that he fell into his old methods, his old practices, as he worked to try and understand why he did what he did.

Take Lehrer’s example of how a car is built to make a noise when you forget to put on your seat belt. This is meant to “force” you to take the proper action. He compared that to his new commitment to always have his work fact-checked, to adhere to his own set of SOPs meant to combat his seemingly inherent desire to cut corners and lie.

It’s a false comparison. 

Forcing mechanisms are meant to guide us to make the right decision. They help remind us and usher us away from an unintentional error. They do nothing for someone who consciously chooses to subvert the system.

Lehrer isn’t the guy who forgot to put on a seat belt and got into an accident. He’s the guy who heard the seat belt reminder dinging and said, “Fuck it, that belt is just going to put wrinkles in my shirt.”

Lehrer didn’t make accidental mistakes. He repeatedly and consciously committed serious ethical transgressions, then lied about them.

Now, after delving into the body of research about human error and human factors, he feels that a set of his own standard operating procedures, and a policy of always having his work fact-checked, will help ward off what he refers to as his “arrogance” and other flaws.

Well, I pity the fact-checker charged with backstopping Lehrer. He’s unfortunately decided that the final responsibility lies with her, rather than him.

In spite of my deep concerns about the picture he painted of his mistakes and how he plans to avoid them in the future, I didn’t doubt Lehrer’s sincerity during his speech, or the Q&A that followed.

I saw in him someone who at times seems to struggle to contain the nerves bubbling up inside him as he spoke about his failings. I think he is genuinely trying to come to terms with what he did, and to find a path to a better place. I believe his young daughter has helped provide the motivation for him to hold himself to account.

Unfortunately, in the end, he seemed to fall into the exact pattern of behavior he has before. It’s deeply ingrained in the way he works, and the way he makes sense of life and events. 

This was driven home when someone asked whether him taking on so many assignments and engagements was a factor in his failings.

“For me the busy-ness was a way to avoid the reckoning,” he said “It’s precisely when you do feel busy and harried and when you don’t have time for” questions “that they’re the most essential.”

Leher hasn’t yet faced his moment of reckoning. It didn’t come from public exposure and disgrace. It wasn’t him being dropped by The New Yorker and Wired or from (until now) the speaking circuit. It isn’t the return to science for study and writing to grapple with his failings.

Jonah Lehrer’s reckoning will come when he’s finally willing to put down the studies, books and papers, turn off the screen, step away from the keyboard and confront himself about why he did what he did. In all honesty, and with genuine compassion, I encourage him to find a good therapist to help with this.

What I learned Tuesday is that until Lehrer is willing to face himself without props and aids, he’ll continue the pattern of self-deception and public deceit.

I guess you could call it his standard operating procedure. Read more

1 Comment

Jonah Lehrer earns $20,000 honorarium for talking about plagiarism at Knight lunch

At a talk this afternoon in Miami, Jonah Lehrer acknowledged his plagiarism and fabrications and described how he hopes to redeem his reputation. Lehrer read prepared remarks then answered questions from Knight Foundation President and CEO Alberto Ibargüen and the gathering at the closing lunch for the 2013 “Media Learning Seminar.” A liveblog of highlights appears beneath the video.

Lehrer was paid handsomely for the appearance. “Like most outside speakers at Knight events, he was paid an honorarium. In this case, it was $20,000,” says Knight spokesperson Marika Lynch by email. Ibargüen told The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, “We would typically pay a speaker sometimes more than that.”

Lehrer resigned from The New Yorker in July after it was revealed he had been recycling his own work for blog posts and had fabricated quotes in at least one of his books. Wired also severed ties with him after an independent investigation found 22 instances of recycling, plagiarism or fabrication.

Archived video of the session appears below, and Lehrer plans to post his remarks on his website in the next few days, he said.

Watch live streaming video from knightfoundation at Read more

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


Jonah Lehrer says he’s writing about ‘false accusations that have been made about my work’

Los Angeles Magazine
Thirteen grafs into Amy Wallace’s piece about Jonah Lehrer, she describes emailing Lehrer to ask “how Lehrer felt as he perched on the precipice before making his career-maiming leap.”

When I e-mailed Lehrer to ask him, he responded right away. Despite the avalanche of coverage, he said, I was only the third person to contact him for comment. (Apparently Lehrer wasn’t the only person guilty of laziness. Or was it that a potential response from Lehrer might not jibe with what the commentariat wanted to say?) “I’m extremely tempted to correct many of the false accusations that have been made about my work in recent weeks,” he wrote before declining to answer my questions. “I’m writing something about the mistake and affair myself, if only so I can learn from the failing, and I’d prefer not to talk until my writing is done.”

Lehrer fact-checking people who’ve reported on Jonah Lehrer? This is about to get interesting. If you emailed or called Lehrer directly, let us know. Read more


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