Jonah Lehrer resigns from New Yorker after fabricating Bob Dylan quotes in 'Imagine'
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As The New York Times' Julie Bosman first reported, Jonah Lehrer has resigned from The New Yorker, soon after new allegations that he fabricated quotes. Michael C. Moynihan says he's uncovered something worse than Lehrer recycling his own material for New Yorker blog posts, which came to light in June. Moynihan says he couldn't find evidence that Bob Dylan said some of the things Lehrer quotes him as saying in "Imagine: How Creativity Works." Worse, he writes, Lehrer admitted lying to him about where he got some of the material because he "panicked." Moynihan confirmed Lehrer's resignation in a tweet: "Jonah Lehrer has resigned from the New Yorker and apologized to me."
New Yorker Editor David Remnick tells the Times' Julie Bosman, "This is a terrifically sad situation, but, in the end, what is most important is the integrity of what we publish and what we stand for."
In a note provided by his publisher, Lehrer said:
"Three weeks ago, I received an email from journalist Michael Moynihan asking about Bob Dylan quotes in my book IMAGINE. 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."
-- Jonah Lehrer
There was also an additional Publisher’s Note: "In light of the serious misuse of quotations admitted above, we are exploring all options available to us. We are taking the e-book of IMAGINE off-sale, and halting shipment of physical copies."
Moynihan, a Tablet magazine contributor, explains how he discovered the fabrication:
I’m something of the Dylan obsessive -- piles of live bootlegs, outtakes, books -- and I read the first chapter of Imagine with keen interest. But when I looked for sources to a handful of Dylan quotations offered by Lehrer -- the chapter is sparsely and erratically footnoted -- I came up empty, and in one case found two fragments of quotes, from different years and on different topics, welded together to create something that happily complimented Lehrer’s argument. Other quotes I couldn’t locate at all.
Here's his description of what happened with one supposed Dylan quotation:
In another quote mined from Dont Look Back, in which Dylan is asked by a pestering Time magazine journalist about the inspiration for his songs, Lehrer quotes Dylan as saying: “I just write them. There’s no great message. Stop asking me to explain.” The last sentence sharpens and simplifies Lehrer’s point -- that Dylan’s brilliance isn’t easily explicable. But it doesn’t appear in Dont Look Back.
When I questioned Lehrer about where this added sentence came from, he claimed it was a hybrid quote, with the first two sentences appearing in Dont Look Back and the admonition to “stop asking me to explain” from a 1995 radio interview included in a rare -- and nearly impossible to find -- collection of Dylan interviews called The Fiddler Now Upspoke. According to Lehrer, in 1995 Dylan told an interviewer, “Stop asking me to explain. Those songs weren’t about anybody.” But I couldn’t find this either, and the only radio interview Dylan gave in 1995 doesn’t include these lines. When asked for a more specific citation -- a page number, a photo of the passage, more information about who conducted the interview-- Lehrer ignored the request.
And here's what transpired when Moynihan tried to get Lehrer to explain where these quotations came from:
When contacted, Lehrer provided an explanation for some of my archival failures: He claimed to have been given access, by Dylan’s manager Jeff Rosen, to an extended -- and unreleased -- interview shot for Martin Scorsese’s documentary No Direction Home. Two of the quotes confounding me, he explained, could be found in a more complete version of that interview, that is not publically available. As corroboration, he offered details of the context in which the comments were delivered, and brought up other topics he claimed Dylan discussed in this unreleased footage.
Over the next three weeks, Lehrer stonewalled, misled and, eventually, outright lied to me. Yesterday, Lehrer finally confessed that he has never met or corresponded with Jeff Rosen, Dylan’s manager; he has never seen an unexpurgated version of Dylan’s interview for No Direction Home, something he offered up to stymie my search; that a missing quote he claimed could be found in an episode of Dylan’s “Theme Time Radio Hour” cannot, in fact, be found there; and that a 1995 radio interview, supposedly available in a printed collection of Dylan interviews called The Fiddler Now Upspoke, also didn’t exist. When, three weeks after our first contact, I asked Lehrer to explain his deceptions, he responded, for the first time in our communication, forthrightly: “I couldn’t find the original sources,” he said. “I panicked. And I’m deeply sorry for lying.”
In a statement quoted by New York Times' Bosman, Lehrer said "The lies are over now. I understand the gravity of my position. I want to apologize to everyone I have let down."
Last month, Jim Romenesko revealed that a New Yorker blog post by Lehrer borrowed material from something Lehrer had previously published in The Wall Street Journal. The New Yorker eventually added Editor's Notes to five stories and other self-plagiarism discoveries soon followed.
At the time, New Yorker editor David Remnick told Jon Friedman, "There are all kinds of crimes and misdemeanors in this business, and if he were making things up or appropriating other people’s work that’s one level of crime."
A month after he revealed that a portion of one of Lehrer's New Yorker blog posts contained previously published material, Jim Romenesko asked the magazine why hadn't seen Lehrer's byline since. He was told that Lehrer was working on a story for the magazine. Lehrer's byline hasn't appeared on a story since June 13.
Remnick, by the way, said recently that he's glad he never profiled Dylan:
For the few profiles he has time to write, Remnick tends to pick subjects he’s personally intrigued by — musicians, writers, politicians, even tyrants. But he’s acutely conscious of the potential for failure or misdirected ambition. “I used to think that I wanted to profile Bob Dylan,” he says by way of example, “and I think now that would be a terrible mistake. First of all, there’s enough written about Bob Dylan to last us twenty-seven lifetimes, and I think he would be the most elusive of subjects, and I’ve seen everyone else do it and I think it would be a disaster."
New Yorker senior PR director Alexa Cassanos said by email that Lehrer's posts "will stay on the site, and there are no plans to add further [editor's] notes unless necessary." The Wall Street Journal, where Lehrer wrote a biweekly column from October 2, 2010 through the beginning of last month, tells its Speakeasy blog, "We are currently reviewing Mr. Lehrer’s work for the Journal."
Related: Lehrer on creativity: 'You fall in love with something and then you steal it' | Journalist feels ‘horrible’ about revealing Jonah Lehrer’s fabrications