When New Yorker staff writer Jonah Lehrer resigned this week after acknowledging that he had fabricated quotes by Bob Dylan in his new book, "Imagine," he became the latest in a string of writers who have admitted to fudging the details, inventing content or stealing words or phrases from other publications.
"My heart really goes out to him," Jayson Blair, the former New York Times reporter caught plagiarizing in 2003, told ABC News. "When you do something like this, once you begin with your first set of mistakes or poor judgment, it's very difficult to stop yourself."
Joining the ranks of Blair, Stephen Glass, and novelist Kaavya Viswanathan, Lehrer marks the most recent addition to our list of publishing offenders.
"One of the elements that strikes me about these cases is that no one was able to own up to it at first," Blair said. "All of them tried to hide it and I think that trying to hide it comes from something deeper than losing fame or profession, from an emotional place that has to do with not disappointing people."
|Jonah Lehrer, New Yorker Staff Writer and Author|
New Yorker staff writer Jonah Lehrer was the picture of young success as the author of three books and a position at one of the country's most prestigious literary magazines by the age of 31. But when Michael Moynihan, a close reader of Lehrer's third book, "Imagine," questioned the author on where the purported Bob Dylan quotes in the new book came from, Lehrer eventually fessed up to fabricating them.
"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," Lehrer wrote in a statement released Monday.
"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," he said.
Lehrer resigned from the New Yorker and the shipping of his book was halted.
In 1981, Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke admitted to making up large parts of her Pulitzer Prize-winning profile, "Jimmy's World," about a young Washington, D.C., boy who she claimed was addicted to heroin. The boy, whom she called Jimmy, did not actually exist, according to the Post. Cooke apologized for passing off the character as a factual person and surrendered her Pulitzer Prize.
Cooke has slipped into obscurity. Former boyfriend and Washington Post reporter Mike Sager wrote in GQ in 1996 that Cooke was working for minimum wage at a store in Michigan.
Stephen Glass was riding a wave of success in the 1990s as a 25-year-old journalism prodigy, penning features for the New Republic magazine and other major publications within years of graduating college. Glass's career came tumbling to a halt, however, after more than 25 of his articles were shown to have been at least partly fabricated.
Glass's stunts were memorialized in the movie "Shattered Glass," based on his career, and Glass's own novel, "Fabulist." After his fall from grace, Glass left the journalism world and enrolled instead at Georgetown University law school. He currently works as a paralegal in Beverly Hills and is fighting to be admitted to the California bar.
Jayson Blair, then 27, was caught plagiarizing at the New York Times in 2003 after the paper discovered that he fabricated and stole many of his stories published in the paper. Covering events including the sniper attacks in Washington, D.C., and reactions to the Iraqi war, Blair made up details and scenes for many of his stories and stole quotes from stories published by the Associated Press.
"In my case, an element of it was this notion that I was expected to be so productive," Blair said today. "I think a lot of people handle that very well, but I think I was ill-equipped to handle it. The first moment of temptation for me came because of expectations I had for myself and others had for me that I couldn't live up to. That motivated the first slip, which is never as egregious as the ones that come later."
Since his resignation from the New York Times, Blair has become a life-coach.
Earlier this year, This American Life contributor Mike Daisey came under fire for misrepresenting many of the details he presented as fact in a monologue presented on the radio show about Daisey's trip to the Apple factory in China. This American Life followed up the revelations about Daisey's dishonesty with an entire episode called "Retraction," about the inconsistencies in Daisey's story.
Daisey defended the story at first, but later apologized for lying.
"In my drive to tell this story and have it be heard, I lost my grounding. Things came out of my mouth that just weren't true, and over time, I couldn't even hear the difference myself," he wrote on his blog.
Daisey is still working as a theater professional, writing and performing monologues.
As an undergrad at Harvard, Kaavya Viswanathan published her first novel, "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life," netting a reported six-figure, two-book deal and a movie option. Her Harvard classmates, however, quickly pointed out that parts of her novel read strikingly similar to another young adult series, Megan McCafferty's "Jessica Darling" novels.
Viwanathan said the copying was accidental and that she was in fact a fan of McCafferty's books. She told the New York Times that she "wasn't aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty's words."
Viswanathan went on to law school at Georgetown University after graduating from Harvard.