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Jul 31 / King Kaufman

Jonah Lehrer’s plagiarism and Nicholas Dawidoff’s ode to sportswriting

Another case of high-profile plagiarism blew up Monday as bestselling author and New Yorker writer Jonah Lehrer resigned from the magazine after admitting that he’d made up quotes in his book “Imagine: How Creativity Works.”

Lehrer’s reputation had already taken a beating last month when he was accused of the odd offense of “self-plagiarism,” recycling things he’d written for one publication in another.

But things got a lot more serious Monday when Michael C. Moynihan published a piece about Lehrer in Tablet magazine with the headline “Jonah Lehrer’s Deceptions.” Moynihan, who calls himself “something of a Dylan obsessive,” chronicles his own unsuccessful efforts to verify some otherwise unknown Bob Dylan quotes Lehrer used in “Imagine.”

Moynihan writes that he repeatedly asked Lehrer to verify the quotes over the course of three weeks, but “Lehrer stonewalled, misled, and, eventually, outright lied to me.”

Not long after that piece was posted, Lehrer issued a statement through his publisher admitting that he’d lied to Moynihan about the origin of some of the Dylan quotes, and that “the quotes in question either did not exist, were unintentional misquotations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes.” He also announced that he had resigned as a New Yorker staff writer.

What is there to say except how sad this is. And we writers should all remind ourselves that shortcuts just don’t work. If your story won’t work without you fabricating something, or copying something you don’t have a right to copy, then your story is not going to work. Because if you do it, there’s a great chance someone is going to catch you at it.

In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re living in a connected world.

The good news is that this incident gives us another chance to review the key Bleacher Report Blog posts about plagiarism, attribution and citing sources:

And just so this post isn’t a total downer, here’s a link to Nicholas Dawidoff’s blog post, also from Monday, on the New York Times’ Opinionator blog, “The Power and Glory of Sportswriting.”

A highlight:

What writers like [Roger] Angell, A. J. Liebling, John McPhee, George Plimpton and the great Red Smith, as well as Sports Illustrated writers like Roy Blount, Robert Creamer, Frank Deford, Dan Jenkins, Ron Fimrite, Steve Wulf and—too many to mention!—share is the essence of good sportswriting: empathy. The appreciation of others is, for most, the reason to watch games, and it happens to be a noble human quality. Where too much recent American literature is less concerned with any search for meaning than the preening desire to be admired, really good sportswriting is grounded in curiosity and revelation, an enthusiast’s notes.

  • King_Kaufman

    NYU journalism professor and media critic Jay Rosen nails it with this tweet:

    If you think: no one will check, you’re wrong: someone will. And the more visible the work, the more visible the check.

  • Liviu Bird

    Nicholas Dawidoff’s post is worth a feature all in itself. Great piece of writing that really captures the spirit of sportswriting.