There’s an obvious irony to the title of Lehrer’s now-tainted best-seller, Imagine. But there’s another, deeper one. Part of being a good nonfiction writer is, in fact, imagining answers before you have them. This kind of imagining helps you ask better questions. It aids you as you hone a strategy for tackling the often difficult job of finding out the truth. The essential trick, though, is to let go of those early presuppositions the instant they are disproved by real information. Certainly it seems this is partly what derailed Lehrer—that he didn’t let go. He wanted Dylan to have had tantrums about the difficulty of writing a song because that served a goal bigger than the truth. It’s easy to see how desperately Lehrer, having sought and obtained membership to the smarty-pants club, needed to prove himself worthy. Still, you can’t help but wonder how Lehrer felt as he perched on the precipice before making his career-maiming leap. Was he aware enough to be nervous? Or was he deluded by his own ambition?
That’s a bit from Amy Wallace’s 10/1/12 article, Caught Getting Creative, in LA Magazine. Worth a read, if you’re keeping up on this Lehrer business. Having been in it from nearly the get-go, it’s become something that immediately stops me when I’m scanning headlines.
I continually ask myself, “Why?”
This whole thing is so stupid. OR has Lehrer been playing very fast and very loose with the concept of non-fiction since he began writing? Did no one question him because he comes off as a smart, well-spoken, clean-cut, good-looking, slightly nebbishy/wonky young man and we expect people who look like that to be straight, square, non-threatening and trustworthy?
I guess the question ultimately is: Is this whole thing his fault? Or Ours?
Commenter Joel Bellman left this on Wallace’s post:
In the pantheon of journalistic sins, based on the evidence we’ve seen (including Seife’s) Lehrer’s amount to little more than misdemeanors. More than infractions – NEVER make up a quote, duh – but something a good deal less than gross plagiarism of others’ work, wholesale fabrications of facts and sourcing, consciously violating source confidentiality, stealing, impersonation, extortion, trading favors, faking photographs – all of which were not uncommon practices not that long ago. Not to mention wiretapping, hacking cell phone messages, bribing health-care personnel to steal and release personal medical records. No – recycling your own stuff a little too freely and cobbling together quotes is hardly best practices. But it’s not the journalistic crime of the century, either – and it’s more than a little repugnant to see so many bloggers and journalists who are barely up to polishing his copy so eager to throw the switch and fry him personally. Schadenfreude hardly begins to describe this spectacle.
Excellent response. Still waiting to see how this all plays out.