February 14, 2013

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:

Controversial speakers should have platforms, but Knight Foundation should not have put itself into a position tantamount to rewarding people who have violated the basic tenets of journalism. We regret our mistake. …
The fee was not unusual for a well-known author to address a large conference. But it was simply not something Knight Foundation, given our values, should have paid.

The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple spoke with Knight CEO and President Alberto Ibargüen just after critics questioned the fee; Wemple reports “there wasn’t a lot of dissension among decision-makers” about paying Lehrer. “We would typically pay a speaker sometimes more than that,” Ibargüen told Wemple.

Critics suggested Lehrer should donate the fee. Jeff Bercovici reached Lehrer by phone and asked about that possibility. “I read your article. I have nothing to say to you,” Lehrer told the Forbes reporter.

Scientific American guest writer Taylor Dobbs suggested Lehrer donate the money to a scholarship fund so that “young broke freelancers who might have once aspired to one day be just like you can go to ScienceOnline and learn this craft that you yesterday called a ‘profound privilege.’ That way, maybe those young broke freelancers can learn how not to be just like you.”

Related: Tickets go on sale today for a new show by Mike Daisey, called “On Lying and the Nature of Magic.” Daisey’s lies about Apple manufacturing last year caused “This American Life” to retract the episode that featured his story.

Previous: It’ll take a village to redeem Jonah Lehrer | “Intellectual laziness is a different crime than intellectual dishonesty, but it still needs to be reckoned with” (The New Republic) | Jonah Lehrer apologizes, makes everyone angrier | Jonah Lehrer falls into familiar pattern, fails to face his reckoning | “Every single factual error I’ve made in my journalism career has been seared into my memory” (Science Tomorrow)

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Julie Moos (jmoos@poynter.org) has been Director of Poynter Online and Poynter Publications since 2009. Previously, she was Editor of Poynter Online (2007-2009) and Poynter Publications…
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