Does Jonah Lehrer Deserve to Work in Journalism Again?


Gawker's Hamilton Nolan doesn't think so, particularly when there are many talented journalists out there unable to get paid jobs:

It makes sense, then, to prioritize hiring those who have not plagiarized or fabricated or otherwise committed a grievous, beyond-the-pale journalistic crime. Having your name on the tip of every editor's tongue, even if it's for doing something bad, goes a long way in this business; it only takes one editor to say, "Hey, that guy Lehrer was really smart before he fucked up, maybe we should give him a try." (If you think this can't happen, you have a far higher opinion of media hiring practices than I do.) In other words, Jonah Lehrer, even today, is probably in a better long-term position to get good quality writing gigs than is, say, a new and squeaky clean graduate of some Midwestern journalism school who doesn't have any personal friends in the New York media world. This is a repulsive state of things.

So how about this: if you commit a huge, inexcusable journalistic crime, on the level of Blair or Lehrer, you get blacklisted from paid journalism jobs.

I'm not sure I'm with Nolan on this. Sure, Lehrer screwed up big time (fabricating Bob Dylan quotes is akin to making up Shakespeare sonnets), but I don't see why he should be barred from doing something he's clearly very, very good at. In a morally perfect universe, Nolan is right, but the fact is, people like reading Lehrer's work more than than the majority of writers out there, and if Lehrer came back, people would still read his work. Sure, it's not fair to other more ethical journalists, but that's not how the media world works. Creating compelling content isn't easy, and those who are good at it get rewarded (as Nolan, a popular writer himself surely understands). Also, Lehrer is 31 years old - a baby in the industry who clearly bit off far more than he could chew as his career took off. He has many years to put right the terrible errors he made, and he may become a better writer and journalist because of it.