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Ear to the Ground

New Yorker Journalist Quits Over Fake Dylan Quotes

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Posted on Jul 30, 2012
Kris Krug/PopTech (Creative Commons)

Jonah Lehrer speaking at PopTech in 2009.

Journalist Jonah Lehrer resigned Monday from The New Yorker after he admitted to fabricating quotes from Bob Dylan in his book “Imagine.” The discovery was made by Michael C. Moynihan, a writer for the online magazine Tablet.

Moynihan, who described himself in the Tablet article as “something of the Dylan obsessive,” wrote to Lehrer inquiring about where the quotes came from. What came next was a series of lies and deceptions, but in the end, truth.

Tablet:

When contacted, Lehrer provided an explanation for some of my archival failures: He claimed to have been given access, by Dylan’s manager Jeff Rosen, to an extended—and unreleased—interview shot for Martin Scorsese’s documentary No Direction Home. Two of the quotes confounding me, he explained, could be found in a more complete version of that interview that is not publicly available. As corroboration, he offered details of the context in which the comments were delivered and brought up other topics he claimed Dylan discussed in this unreleased footage.

Over the next three weeks, Lehrer stonewalled, misled, and, eventually, outright lied to me. Yesterday, Lehrer finally confessed that he has never met or corresponded with Jeff Rosen, Dylan’s manager; he has never seen an unexpurgated version of Dylan’s interview for No Direction Home, something he offered up to stymie my search; that a missing quote he claimed could be found in an episode of Dylan’s “Theme Time Radio Hour” cannot, in fact, be found there; and that a 1995 radio interview, supposedly available in a printed collection of Dylan interviews called The Fiddler Now Upspoke, also didn’t exist. When, three weeks after our first contact, I asked Lehrer to explain his deceptions, he responded, for the first time in our communication, forthrightly: “I couldn’t find the original sources,” he said. “I panicked. And I’m deeply sorry for lying.”

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Lehrer released a written statement in which he attempted to explain his actions. “Three weeks ago, I received an email from journalist Michael Moynihan asking about Bob Dylan quotes in my book ‘Imagine,’ ” he said. “The quotes in question either did not exist, were unintentional misquotations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes. But I told Mr. Moynihan that they were from archival interview footage provided to me by Dylan’s representatives. This was a lie spoken in a moment of panic. When Mr. Moynihan followed up, I continued to lie, and say things I should not have said.”

He then apologized. “The lies are over now. I understand the gravity of my position. I want to apologize to everyone I have let down, especially my editors and readers. I also owe a sincere apology to Mr. Moynihan. I will do my best to correct the record and ensure that my misquotations and mistakes are fixed.”

This isn’t the first controversy Lehrer has been involved in. In fact, he apologized just last month for, among other things, recycling his own work.

—Posted by Tracy Bloom.

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