UPDATE: Wired has clarified Lehrer has no further assignments.
We want to ensure that there is no confusion regarding reports today about writer Jonah Lehrer and WIRED. Jonah has not been “hired” by WIRED; he’s been a contributing editor at the magazine and the website for years. When allegations surfaced about his work elsewhere, we immediately began a thorough review of his feature stories and columns in the magazine. So far we have found nothing unusual. Jonah also wrote tens of thousands of words for Wired.com, and the process of vetting that work continues. He has no current assignments. After gathering the facts–from our inquiry and elsewhere–we’ll make a decision about whether Jonah’s byline will appear again at WIRED.
ORIGINAL POST: Well, folks, we called it too soon. The ongoing implosion of Jonah Lehrer may just have been stopped in its tracks.
News down the wire today is that Wired is keeping its contract with the disgraced wonder boy, who resigned from the New Yorker two weeks ago after Tablet‘s Michael Moynihan found Lehrer fabricated quotes in his nonfiction book Imagine. And though commentary on the Web has ranged from attacks on the depiction of science in his work to condemnations of his “male arrogance,” Wired has said it hasn’t found anything “too troubling” in its review of Jonah Lehrer’s work so far. (This, despite the fact that he’s already self-plagiarized work for Wired in a previous scandal only weeks before this one.)
In light of this summer’s dismal track record — Liane Membis, Paresh Jha, Fareed Zakaria — the example Wired is setting is far-reaching. Apparently, if you’re enough of a hotshot, you can make up all the quotes you want and get away with it.
Even outright fabrication isn’t enough of an excuse to fire you.
By keeping Lehrer on, Wired is spitting in the collective faces of all journalists dedicated enough to get the story responsibly, ethically, conscientiously. It’s hardly easy work: the staff cuts at newsrooms across the country speak for themselves about the shortage of reporters behind the stories we read every day. But that context only adds insult to the injury Wired inflicts on the larger journalistic community.
As Moynihan said in an interview with Reuters earlier this month, “this job that we do is at times very frustrating. [...] But at no time have I ever decided, ‘Well you know what, screw this, I am going to make this work and I am going to cut corners,’ — I just don’t think it is fair.”
Journalists across the country are exercising the kind of ethics Lehrer did not. To reward him for flouting the rules flies in the face of reason.
When his fabrications were first exposed, Lehrer took responsibility and resigned from his post at the New Yorker. I’m calling on Lehrer now to consider resigning from Wired as well. To blatantly ignore his wrongdoings, especially those as severe and public as these, does a disservice to both Wired and the larger journalistic community.
Lehrer’s already failed his profession’s code of ethics once. Do the honorable thing — don’t do it again.
P.S. Poynter’s Scott Leadingham has an interesting suggestion in today’s article, “Why journalism should rehabilitate, not excommunicate, fabulists and plagiarists,” arguing that “plagiarism, deception, quote invention, etc. are facts of life when fallible humans occupy journalism (and any) jobs,” and that “permanent blackballing from the industry is not an effective deterrent.”
Leadingham acknowledges that “[s]ometimes a journalism death penalty or life without parole is indeed the only option,” but proposes a rough draft for retraining the “run-of-the-mill plagiarist or quote fabricator.” We’ll leave it up to you to decide where Lehrer falls.
Lunchtime excerpts (or, sources):