Lehrer resigns from The New Yorker

Tablet busts the writer for fabricating Bob Dylan quotes in his new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works

Science writer Jonah Lehrer has resigned as a staff writer for The New Yorker following revelations that he made up quotes and misquoted singer Bob Dylan in his book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, which was released in March.

Monday afternoon, Tablet magazine published the results of an investigation by staff writer Michael C. Moynihan, a self-described “Dylan obsessive” who found three fabricated quotes as well as four examples of misquotation in the first chapter of Imagine. When Moynihan asked Lehrer about the sources of the quotes, Lehrer said that they’d come from exclusive material provided Dylan’s manager, but eventually admitted to Moynihan that he’d been lying.

No sooner had Moynihan’s article appeared online than Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which published Imagine, released the following statement from Lehrer:

Three weeks ago, I received an email from journalist Michael Moynihan asking about Bob Dylan quotes in my book IMAGINE. 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.

The statement came with the following publisher’s note from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

In light of the serious misuse of quotations admitted above, we are exploring all options available to us. We are taking the e-book of IMAGINE off-sale, and halting shipment of physical copies.

Lori Glazer, a spokeswoman for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, declined to make any other comments about Lehrer relationship with the publishing house.

Lehrer’s fall from grace started in late June when media critic Jim Romenesko revealed that Lehrer had reused parts of old stories he wrote for other publications in six of his eight initial blog posts for The New Yorker. The website added an editor’s note to each of the posts noting where else the copy had appeared and expressing “regret [for] the duplication of material.” Lehrer has not blogged for the site since then.

“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,” said New Yorker editor David Remnick in a prepared statement released by the magazine’s press office.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard. Tags: , ,