Jonah Lehrer, the staff writer for The New Yorker who apologized in June for recycling his previous work in articles, blogs and his bestselling book “Imagine,” resigned from the magazine, he said in a statement.
Mr. Lehrer faced new questions about his work on Monday in an article in the online magazine Tablet that reported that he had admitted to fabricating quotes from Bob Dylan in “Imagine,” a nonfiction book published in March by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
“Three weeks ago, I received an email from journalist Michael Moynihan asking about Bob Dylan quotes in my book ‘Imagine,’ ” Mr. Lehrer said in a statement. “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.”
This makes me sad. Jonah Lehrer is a very smart, very talented writer. Just last week I gave his book “Proust Was a Neuroscientist” to my oldest son and encouraged him to read it. He was well on his way to becoming one of the great nonfiction journalists of his generation. And now he’s ruined himself.
This also makes me marvel at how crazy writers are. The other day I was telling a friend how when I went for a big job interview early in my career, I spent 45 minutes telling my interviewers what a bad writer I was, and how they shouldn’t hire me if they didn’t want their magazine to suck. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get the job. But Lehrer’s level of self-sabotaging insanity is from another universe. I’m finishing the final sift of the manuscript for my next book, and I can’t tell you how anxious I am to get this right — to make sure that what gets published can stand up to scrutiny. Granted, it’s a memoir, so things are murkier there, but still, as a matter of simple integrity, you try to tell the truth — and if not out of your own professional integrity, then as a matter of self-preservation.
Who the hell thinks they can make up quotes attributed to Bob Dylan and get away with it? Former New Yorker staff writer Jonah Lehrer, that’s who.
Aside from the fact that he’s ruined his career, he’s almost certainly going to have to pay back his advance to his publisher. When you sign that contract with the publisher, you as a matter of course guarantee in writing that you won’t do crap like this. He’s almost certainly in breach of contract now, and will have to pay back a no doubt princely sum. Sure hope he hasn’t spent it. Not only will he have to send back that money, but he’s pretty much destroyed his chances of making a living as a writer for the foreseeable future. He’s young, and he’s extremely talented, so he might bounce back. But if so, it’s going to take a long, long time.
Writers are crazy people.