Jonah Lehrer has resigned from his brief tenure as a staff writer at The New Yorker after he admitted to fabricating, and then lying about, Bob Dylan quotes used in his latest book, Imagine: How Creativity Works. The new revelations about Lehrer’s journalistic indiscretions come barely a month after he was discovered to be reusing his own work across publications unbeknownst to his editors or readers. For self-plagiarizing, he received a slap on the wrist, and while he hasn’t published work for The New Yorker since, he was said to be working on an article for the magazine.
Today, however, Tablet published “Jonah Lehrer’s Deceptions,” in which the pop-science writer admits he was caught again. As of this afternoon, Lehrer’s name does not appear on an online list of The New Yorker’s contributors.
Imagine’s first chapter, “Bob Dylan’s Brain,” uses the writing of “Like a Rolling Stone” as a historical anecdote about inventiveness, but includes both factual errors and intellectual dishonesty. In a New Republic take-down of the book, Isaac Chotiner wrote “almost everything in the chapter — from the minor details to the larger argument — is inaccurate, misleading, or simplistic.”
But Tablet’s Michael Moynihan, himself a huge Dylan fan, noticed that it was was even worse than that: In searching for Dylan quotes cited by Lehrer, “I came up empty,” he writes, “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.”
Lehrer had an excuse … until he didn’t:
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.”
There’s more here.
Lehrer expanded upon his apology in a statement issued this afternoon, first reported by the New York Times:
“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.”
His publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt added that shipments of Imagine have been “halted” and the e-book is no longer for sale. Moving forward, they said, “we are exploring all options available to us.”
“There are all kinds of crimes and misdemeanors in this business,” New Yorker editor David Remnick said last month when the first shoe dropped, “and if he were making things up or appropriating other people’s work that’s one level of crime.” With fabrication now among Lehrer’s offenses, Remnick said in a statement today, “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.”