Jonah Lehrer Resigns From The New Yorker After Making Up Dyl
USinfo | 2012-12-29 09:32
By JULIE BOSMAN August 06, 2012 
A publishing industry that is notoriously ill-equipped to root out fraud. A magazine whose famed fact-checking department is geared toward print, not the Web. And a lucrative lecture circuit that rewards snappy, semi-scientific pronouncements, smoothly delivered to a corporate audience.
All contributed to the rise of Jonah Lehrer, the 31-year-old author, speaker and staff writer for The New Yorker, who then executed one of the most bewildering recent journalistic frauds, one that on Monday cost him his prestigious post at the magazine and his status as one of the most promising, visible and well-paid writers in the business.
An article in Tablet magazine revealed that in his best-selling book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” Mr. Lehrer had fabricated quotes from Bob Dylan, one of the most closely studied musicians alive. Only last month, Mr. Lehrer had publicly apologized for taking some of his previous work from The Wall Street Journal, Wired and other publications and recycling it in blog posts for The New Yorker, acts of recycling that his editor called “a mistake.”
By Monday, when the Tablet article was published online, both The New Yorker and Mr. Lehrer’s publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, made it clear that they had lost patience with him.
David Remnick, the editor of the magazine who had reluctantly kept Mr. Lehrer on staff after his reuse of his own material was detailed last month, spoke with Mr. Lehrer on Sunday night and accepted his resignation. “This is a terrifically sad situation,” Mr. Remnick said in a statement, “but, in the end, what is most important is the integrity of what we publish and what we stand for.”
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said it would recall print copies of “Imagine,” an expensive and arduous undertaking that suggested the publisher was taking Mr. Lehrer’s sins seriously.
In a statement released through his publisher, Mr. Lehrer apologized.
“The lies are over now,” he said. “I understand the gravity of my position. I want to apologize to everyone I have let down, especially my editors and readers.”
He added, “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.”
Through his literary agent, Andrew Wylie, Mr. Lehrer declined a request for an interview.
Mr. Lehrer, who majored in neuroscience at Columbia, rose to prominence writing about science in the mold of Malcolm Gladwell or David Brooks through his blog on, which then moved to The New Yorker, and quickly became a popular paid speaker at conferences.
A spokeswoman for The New Yorker said that in addition to his work online, Mr. Lehrer wrote six articles for the magazine, beginning in July 2008. His last article for the magazine was published in March 2012. He became a staff writer in June 2012.
Mr. Lehrer might have kept his job at The New Yorker if not for the Tablet article, by Michael C. Moynihan, a journalist who is something of an authority on Mr. Dylan.
Reading “Imagine,” Mr. Moynihan was stopped by a quote cited by Mr. Lehrer in the first chapter. “It’s a hard thing to describe,” Mr. Dylan said. “It’s just this sense that you got something to say.”
After searching for a source, Mr. Moynihan could not verify the authenticity of the quote. Pressed for an explanation, Mr. Lehrer “stonewalled, misled and, eventually, outright lied to me” over several weeks, Mr. Moynihan wrote, first claiming to have been given access by Mr. Dylan’s manager to an unreleased interview with the musician. Eventually, Mr. Lehrer confessed that he had made it up.
Mr. Moynihan also wrote that Mr. Lehrer had spliced together Dylan quotes from separate published interviews and, when the quotes were accurate, he took them well out of context. Mr. Dylan’s manager, Jeff Rosen, declined to comment.
Mr. Lehrer’s publisher quickly moved on Monday to make “Imagine” disappear from the bookstore shelves. All of its retail and wholesale accounts, the publisher said, would be asked to stop selling “Imagine” and return unsold copies for a full refund. On Monday morning, “Imagine” was ranked No. 105 on Amazon’s Web site; by afternoon, it had been removed.
Since its release in March, “Imagine” has sold more than 200,000 copies in hardcover and e-book. On The New York Times hardcover nonfiction best-seller list of Aug. 5, “Imagine” held the No. 14 spot.
Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia, said in an interview that not only had Mr. Lehrer carved out a career in the popular niche of brain science, but he had created a persona that is perfectly suited to a 21st-century media environment.
“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.”
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