Lying seems to be one of the biggest ethical problems we face today. I posted the other day about the “lie factory” that has taken over our political process. Now, I’ve just gotten wind of something that happened this summer.
Jonah Lehrer, author of a book called Imagine: How Creativity Works, admits to having fabricated quotes — lying in print for the whole reading world to see.
“The lies are over now,” NPR reported Lehrer saying after he resigned from his job as a staff writer for The New Yorker.
The author was done in by trying to put words into Bob Dylan’s mouth. A Dylan fan and journalist, Michael Moynihan, smelled the fish and eventually unearthed the truth.
Imagine had been a best-seller for the popular 31-year-old Lehrer. He appeared on Stephen Colbert’s popular Comedy Central show and was being publicly asked his views on a variety of topics.
“You know, I do think in some level this is the predictable outcome of expecting a young journalist to be the next Oliver Sacks,” literary agent Scott Mendel told NPR. Sacks spent decades as a practicing neurologist and psychologist, Mendel said, but Lehrer benefited too quickly from a system that likes its stars.
“It was easy for people to forget that part of Jonah Lehrer’s background and expertise didn’t exist,” Mendel said. “He’s too young to have that kind of experience.”
Mendel added that nonfiction writers throughout history have faked materials, discovered lost texts that weren’t truly lost, or made up characters and events.
That’s a scary revelation for someone like me who reads mostly non-fiction.
What’s new with Lehrer, Mendel told NPR, is how quickly he was exposed. “You can’t write about something people care deeply about without assuming that hundreds, if not thousands, of people will immediately begin checking your facts,” Mendel said.
Let’s simply close with the ninth of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Ex. 20:16)