The Washington Post

All Lehrer content must be Ghostbustered

Lehrer’s work, universally tainted. (Rex Features via AP Images)

First, it was the quasi-scandal over Jonah Lehrer’s using his New Yorker blog posts to recycle material that he’d previously published elsewhere.

Second, it was further revelations on Lehrer’s full recycling bin.

Third, it was a blockbuster story in Tablet magazine revealing that Lehrer had fabricated quotes from Bob Dylan for his book “Imagine.”

Fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh were more revelations of plagiarism and journalistic malpractice.

Eighth is a Sept. 13 correction in the Wall Street Journal saying the following:

Former Wall Street Journal freelancer Jonah Lehrer inappropriately reused passages from articles he wrote for the Boston Globe in two essays that he later wrote for the Journal’s Review section. The columns, “Head Case: Brain Scan Overload,” which was published in the Journal on Nov. 12-13, 2011, and “Mom Was Right: Go Outside,” published May 26-27, 2012, have been removed from and the Journal’s electronic archives.

Enough. We’ve seen proof that nothing housed under the byline of Jonah Lehrer can be trusted, even those items that have been scrubbed and fact-checked and patted down from every angle by the country’s greatest journalistic green-shaders. The author has given the industry every reason to believe that everything he’s ever done is compromised in one way or another.

One response is to do exactly what the Wall Street Journal did, which is to disappear the stuff. Web-journo purists oppose the wipe-it-clean approach because it’s eerie, lacks transparency and can leave the impression that a huge mistake was never made., which has severed its ties with its former contributor, takes a different approach to the 450 or so Lehrer-written blog posts on the site. Here’s the boilerplate that appears atop many items:

Editor’s Note: Some work by this author has been found to fall outside our Editorial standards. Not all posts have been checked. If you have any comments about this post, please write to

The New Yorker has a similar formula:

Editors’ Note: Portions of this post appeared in similar form in an April, 2011, post by Jonah Lehrer for We regret the duplication of material.

Those approaches fulfill the Internet’s stubborn transparency standards but somehow don’t meet the challenge posed by a scoundrel like Lehrer. Journalism consumers who may not follow need something more than just an editor’s note when they stumble on a piece of “journalism” written by Lehrer.

It’s an imperative for the Graphics Department. Some visual — perhaps the red Ghostbusters circle — must drape Lehrer’s work on any site that continues to host it. Something foreboding, signaling that what you’re reading carries a high likelihood of corruption. Words in standard font size won’t work.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.


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