Jonah Lehrer resigned from the New Yorker yesterday after being busted for fake Bob Dylan quotes in his book Imagine, The New York Times reported.
Lehrer's journalism ethics were in the news this summer because of accusations of self-plagiarism, as we wrote. The New Yorker added a handful of editor's notes to Lehrer's blogs to reflect that he was re-using content from previously published work, including a column for the Wall Street Journal. Lehrer apologized and called it a "stupid thing to do and incredibly lazy and absolutely wrong."
His resignation was prompted by Tablet magazine's investigation of his Bob Dylan quotes in Imagine, which the Times identified as "a nonfiction book published in March by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt."
Lehrer issued a statement to The Times about his resignation and the fake quotes, explaining that Tablet's Michael Moynihan had contacted him about the quotes which he said "either did not exist, were unintentional misquotations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes." Lehrer added that he lied about where the quotes came from. He said:
"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."
Tablet's report revealed that "there is no proof that Dylan ever said" quotes Lehrer reported in Imagine. Moynihan, who described himself as "something of the Dylan obsessive," reported:
"When I looked for sources to a handful of Dylan quotations offered by Lehrer—the chapter is sparsely and erratically footnoted—I came up empty and in one case found two fragments of quotes, from different years and on different topics, welded together to create something that happily complemented Lehrer’s argument. Other quotes I couldn’t locate at all."
Moynihan wrote that Lehrer "stonewalled, misled, and eventually, outright lied" about the quotes until he "finally confessed" that his explanations for the quotes were phony. Poynter reported that Moynihan, whose article prompted Lehrer's resignation, said he "felt horrible" about the result of his reporting even though "this was a situation of his own making."
The New Yorker's editor David Remnick issued a statement that reads “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," according to the Times.
The Associated Press reported that Houghton Mifflin's Bruce Nichols said that book publishers "rely on the authors’ contractual warranties that the work is original and, for non-fiction, accurate. Nonetheless we consider accuracy and originality to be essential standards, and whenever any of our authors transgresses these standards we take it very seriously." The Wall Street Journal noted that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt "said the digital books should be removed from all bookselling sites by the end of the day."
The Wall Street Journal reported that it is "currently reviewing Mr. Lehrer's work for the Journal," noting that Lehrer "contributed a biweekly column...from Oct. 2, 2010 to June 8, 2012."
We have written to The New Yorker, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Lehrer's speaking agency for further comment and will update with any response.
UPDATE: 7/31/2012 2:05 PM EST: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Lori Glazer told iMediaEthics HMH has "no further comments."