I cannot begin to understand what Jonah Lehrer was thinking when he fabricated quotes from Bob Dylan in his bestseller, “Imagine: How Creativity Works”, a business book about “the new science of creativity.”
Although creative it may have been, it was absolutely egregious behavior for a journalist.
The book supposedly revealed Bob Dylan’s writing habits and the drug addiction of poets among other revelatory looks at the new science of creativity. A source from Dylan’s management said there was no record of any contact with Lehrer.
Lehrer has now admitted his deception. He’s been fired from The New Yorker and his publisher is recalling his book. It’s a complete repudiation of everything Lerner stood for.
Author Behaving Badly
When he was first challenged about the Dylan quotes, Lehrer behaved very badly. He lied and denied. Subsequently, he accepted responsibility and apologized.
Lehrer’s was an apology as serious as his offense.
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.
On the element of Responsibility, readers of this blog know how easy it is to gravitate to circumlocutions that distances the offender from the responsibility they have agreed to accept. Witness Lehrer’s phrase “This was a lie spoken in a moment of panic.” Who is actually doing the speaking? Lerhrr may agree with me that it would have been better simply to have said, “I lied.”
I like the way Lehrer expressed Remorse. It would have been even more powerful to leave out the “I want” and simply say “I apologize to everyone I have let down . . .”
On the matter of Restitution, his complete and utter professional destruction is sufficient. The fifth element of effective apology–a promise not to Repeat the behavior–is guaranteed as it is unlikely he will soon be in a position of journalistic responsibility.
Overall Score: A-