It’s all over now, Baby Blue

Oh, Jonah…

I’m sure most of you saw the news yesterday that somewhat-discredited writer Jonah Lehrer is now fully discredited, having resigned from The New Yorker after admitting he fabricated some Bob Dylan quotes for his book Imagine and then lied about it. It’s a shame, because, while I haven’t read Imagine, I’ve been impressed by his writing on-line—he’s clearly a smart guy. But while I was willing to let it slide earlier when it seemed like he was self-plagiarizing due to feeling overwhelmed/over-committed, it’s a lot harder when he’s putting words in Bob Dylan’s mouth.

Anyway, I bring all this up just as a simple plea: if you’re writing nonfiction, don’t make stuff up!

I know, it seems self-evident, but there’s a long history of smart writers plagiarizing or fabricating material for a variety of reasons. And while publishers can protect themselves to an extent with the warranty clauses in their contracts, which place the burden of truth squarely on the author, as an agent all we really have is the author’s word. Yet if a problem arises, we certainly catch our share of the blame (witness the silence of Lehrer’s agent on this).

So, for my sake and yours, please don’t pull a Jonah—otherwise, to quote (accurately, I hope) the man in question, “a hard rain’s a-gonna fall…”

4 Responses to It’s all over now, Baby Blue

  1. What is going on out there? Is it me or are these stories popping up with an unusual frequency?

    I just don’t get it. A staff writer at the NEW YORKER! I can not understand how someone would risk so much, such an amazing career, for something so small.

  2. EDWARD says:

    Don’t think twice, I’m only bleeding: It is the tragedy of this blog, and partly the the blogger, that intelligence is frequently confused with moral decency. Many of the moral failures of recent decades were intelligent people. Intelligence is not the same thing as morally correct. They are separate functions. You don’t get to be honest because it is the smart thing. Honesty comes from a different neural pathway altogether. A few years back there was a law professor from Yale who wrote a parenting book about being a TIGER MOM to her small daughter. When NPR called her on the honesty of her “non-fiction” book, she attacked NPR because they were not clever enough people to discern fact from “sarcasm”. In the end, if you are dumb enough to buy it, there will always be people greedy enough to sell it to you. The tiger mom, who has made a lot of money in America, sees her fellow Americans as spoiled. She’s not a “non-fiction” writer, but perhaps she has something here.

  3. Suzy says:

    Which is worse–fabrication or plagiarism? I read an article yesterday that accuses Lehrer of plagiarizing Malcolm Gladwell. How did Lehrer’s fabrication of Bob Dylan quotes get past his agent and publisher? Do agents have safeguards in place for preventing this kind of blatant dishonesty? People like Jonah Lehrer give other writers a bad name.

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