Carr on Lehrer and Zakaria: Turning the Media Lens Inward
In his column in yesterday's New York Times, David Carr turns his gaze to Jonah Lehrer and Fareed Zakaria, two journalists who have notoriously been at the center of recent scandal. Lehrer reused portions of his own work published elsewhere, fabricated quotes attributed to Bob Dylan and (at first) lied about having done so. He resigned his position from the New Yorker after being exposed and, for the time being anyway, is persona non grata in the media world. Zakaria has acknowledged plagiarizing passages written by New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore, though he claims it was an accident (due to confusing note taking and an overly-hectic schedule). After a brief investigation by his publishers, he is going back to work.
Carr rightly points out that part of the problem lies in the perceived mutability and "self-cleaning tendencies" of the Web, where we have come to expect truth to evolve in the hothouse of reportage and reaction that characterizes the 24-hour news cycle. But even in this atmosphere there are standards that cannot be bypassed - standards in which Carr believes today's journalists are perhaps not well-schooled.
Personally, I think it is tragic to lose the public voice of someone as intelligent as Lehrer, and hope he can rehabilitate his career on some level. Unlike Steven Glass, whose malfeasance seemed to come with a sneer, I don't get the sense Lehrer was thumbing his nose at editors and readers. I'm not saying he does not deserve what he's got, only that, like Zakaria, he might be given the opportunity to learn from this and move on. It's interesting that Zakaria seems poised to suffer no long-term fallout for his lapse in judgement, or lapse in cautiousness, or whatever. I guess this is just another example of how our standards for writers expected to churn out brilliant prose at an unprecedented rate are still in a fluid state.