A few years ago a prominent New York Times writer, Jonah Lehrer, was caught plagiarizing, miss-quoting, and recycling old material. The fall from grace was particularly painful because of all the accolades Lehrer had achieved in his career.
His achievements were celebrated all over the media world. He seemed to have success in many different fields: science, pop literature, and journalism. But as his career was just beginning, he admitted to fabricating quotes from Bob Dylan in his book Imagine. The fallout from his wrongdoings were huge; he was publicly shamed and his career as a writer seemed shattered – and it was.
After every tragedy, however, life still goes on. Lehrer was faced with a choice to accept his fate as a humiliated writer, or to piece together a once intact career. For better or worse, Lehrer decided to get back into the writing game. With the release of his latest book, A Book About Love, Lehrer received mixed reviews ranging from complete disgust to a lukewarm nod.
A Book About Love by Jonah Lehrer
Anybody who pays attention to mainstream media understands the shame game. If you step out of line, you become a dumping ground for all the hate that lingers in this world. Lehrer made himself a target by violating the basic tenants of journalism: honesty, transparency, and truth. Just like in a romantic relationship, once trust is broken, the relationship is more than likely ruined.
Salon.com has its own issues with plagiarism with C.J. Werleman and a general lack of journalistic integrity, but one article seemed to have predicted Lehrer’s future. Roxane Gay wrote in 2012 that, “At some point in to future there will be a book deal…Slowly but surely, Lehrer is going to start climbing back toward grace and he’ll reach it.” Although Roxane Gay was right about the book deal, she was wrong about his return to grace, at least for now.
Slate and the NYT have slammed Lehrer’s attempt at writing his new book. Perhaps there is still some bad blood in the writing community against Lehrer, and certainly for good reason. But we should keep in mind that we are all human, and humans make mistakes. After all, Salon quickly forgave Amy Schumer for her run-in with plagarism, so why not give Lehrer a second chance too? Instead of playing the shame game, read the book yourself and decided if Lehrer has redeemed his character.
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