‘I’m sorry’ never felt so good — nor paid so handsomely.
Jonah Lehrer, the disgraced New Yorker writer who quit his job in July after it was discovered he was recycling his own work, for blog posts, acknowledged his plagiarism and fabrications at a February 12 talk in Miami.
It wasn’t just any talk. It came during the Knight Foundation’s prestigious annual Media Learning Seminar, and was accompanied by all the trappings of a big-name performance on the lecture circuit.
And it paid a cool $20,000, Poynter reported.
Lehrer opened his speech by candidly describing himself.
“For those who do not know who I am, let me give you a brief summary: I’m the author of a book on creativity that contained several fabricated Bob Dylan quotes. I committed plagiarism on my blog, taking without credit or citation an entire paragraph from the blog of Christian Jarrett. I plagiarized from myself. I lied to a journalist named Michael Moynihan to cover up the Dylan fabrications,” he said.
He apologized to his readers, friends and family, whose trust he said he had broken, and cited arrogance, and “my tendency to believe my own excuses,” as reasons for his actions.
After listing his many professional mishaps, Lehrer explained why he chose to speak out.
“I am convinced that unless I talk openly about what I’ve learned so far, unless I hold myself accountable in public, then the lessons will not last,” he said. “ I will lose the only consolation of my failure, which is the promise that I will not fail like this again, that I might one day find a way to fail better.”
Hardly the way anyone who honestly wanted to acknowledge his errors would have handled the event.
And Regardless of the criticism, Lehrer ended the talk by saying that despite the controversy, readers haven’t seen the last of him.
Describing how he thought he would never write again in the direct aftermath of resignation, he concluded: “What I can say for now is I have rediscovered my love of the job. … I still want to write because I remembered when it was too late how much I love writing.”
Anne Cohen is the Forward’s deputy digital media editor. When she’s not looking for the secret Jewish history of Voodoo in New Orleans, or making lists about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she writes for The Assimilator. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism with an M.S. magazine concentration in 2012.