Jonah Lehrer’s recent firing from the New Yorker prompted The Wrap’s Sharon Waxman to author a wrongheaded apologia for the disgraced scribe. Waxman notes that, ultimately, Lehrer engaged in unethical conduct, but places the onus of his misdeeds on those who purchased his shoddy work.The 31-year-old Lehrer, you see, manufactured quotes from whole cloth, freely lifted whole paragraphs from previous self-authored pieces and lied about both when confronted by reporters. Lehrer was fired and his promising career in journalism, for the time being at least, lies in shambles. (All three of his bestselling books are now under review by publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.)
By any standard, Lehrer’s actions must be deemed unethical, and should serve as a lesson for those who would attempt to circumvent acceptable business practices in all areas, particularly in journalism, which makes specific claims for conveying objective truths. Failure to adhere to these basic standards is a moral shortcoming, deserving of dismissal.
Waxman, however, writes that Lehrer’s ethical lapses should apply equally to greedy publishers who apply too much pressure on unseasoned writers. She acknowledges Lehrer’s credentials – Rhodes Scholar, neuroscientist, bestselling author of Imagine: How Creativity Works – and determines he “was doing too much, too fast, at too high an RPM.”
The poor, dear child, in Waxman’s universe, is a Dickensian tragedy, forced to pick his own literary pockets in order to survive in an unforgiving adult world: “He found himself lifting from one column to fill another. He cut and pasted passages from his book to pad his New Yorker work.” She asserts: “There is precious little protection out there for young writers in the atomized digital age,” bemoans Waxman. “Few places to learn the basic craft of fact-based reporting, checking sources, double-checking footnotes.” Oh, the iniquity! (more…)