Jonah Lehrer Apologizes in Heartfelt Speech, Doesn’t Seem That Sorry in Q&A


This afternoon, Jonah Lehrer — of Bob Dylan quote manufacturing, plagiarizing, fiery fall-from-grace fame — gave a talk “about decision making” at the Knight Foundation’s annual Media Learning Seminar, for which Poynter reports he was paid $20,000. Lehrer’s speech was an apology, a self-flagellating mea maxima culpa made all the more brutal by the enormous screen next to him running a constant Twitter stream of people making fun of him.

To Lehrer’s credit, he copped to his flaws, specifically: “My arrogance; my desire for attention; my willingness to take shortcuts provided I don’t think anyone else will notice; my carelessness, matched with an ability to excuse my carelessness away; my tendency to believe my own excuses.” He explained that his policy going forward — if he ever is allowed to go forward — will rest on a set of “standard operating procedures” (taping every single interview, fact-checks, and footnotes) to ensure he doesn’t make similar mistakes.

At the tail end of his talk, he dared invoke Dylan, a move that wrung a tiny chuckle from the crowd: “I’d like to end with a quote from Bob Dylan, one he actually said: ‘She knows there’s no success like failure. And that failure’s no success at all.’ Now I see that the words are literal – because success does require failure… The poetry of Dylan’s line exists in the inversion, because even as he insists in the necessity of failure, he acknowledges that every failure is still a failing.”

In the Q&A section, however, Lehrer seemed somewhat less sorry, his body language almost petulant as he dismissed questions from the audience about the specifics of how he came to make all of those famed journalistic mistakes, shrugged off what might have been an interesting query about Lance Armstrong (“I don’t really have an opinion on him. I’m just trying to deal with my own dishonesties, I’m not trying to figure anyone else out”), and seemed reluctant to deviate in the slightest from his ultra-personal message. Is this a manifestation of that arrogance he kept on talking about? Has he truly learned his lesson? Watch the whole thing for yourself here and let us know what you think.