First there was the self-plagiarism. And now, just a month later, Lehrer was caught fabricating some Bob Dylan quotes for his most recent book and then tried to cover it up.
Mr. Lehrer might have kept his job at The New Yorker if not for the Tablet article, by Michael C. Moynihan, a journalist who is something of an authority on Mr. Dylan.
Reading “Imagine,” Mr. Moynihan was stopped by a quote cited by Mr. Lehrer in the first chapter. “It’s a hard thing to describe,” Mr. Dylan said. “It’s just this sense that you got something to say.”
After searching for a source, Mr. Moynihan could not verify the authenticity of the quote. Pressed for an explanation, Mr. Lehrer “stonewalled, misled and, eventually, outright lied to me” over several weeks, Mr. Moynihan wrote, first claiming to have been given access by Mr. Dylan’s manager to an unreleased interview with the musician. Eventually, Mr. Lehrer confessed that he had made it up.
I’ve posted about many articles written by Lehrer and even interviewed him after I read Proust Was a Neuroscientist. When this sort of thing happens, you wonder how much else was, shall we say, embellished for effect.
Chris Anderson’s new book, Free, will be out early next month (you can order it for $17.81 on Amazon). Over on the VQR blog, Waldo Jaquith discovered that several passages in the book were lifted directly from Wikipedia and other sources without attribution.
These instances were identified after a cursory investigation, after I checked by hand several dozen suspect passages in the whole of the 274-page book. This was not an exhaustive search, since I don’t have access to an electronic version of the book. Most of the passages, but not all, come from Wikipedia.
In response to a query by Jaquith — bloggers take note — sent *before* the publication of the piece, Anderson took responsibility for the copied passages, saying that they were “notes” that were originally footnoted:
This all came about once we collapsed the notes into the copy. I had the original sources footnoted, but once we lost the footnotes at the 11th hour, I went through the document and redid all the attributions […] Obviously in my rush at the end I missed a few of that last category, which is bad. As you’ll note, these are mostly on the margins of the book’s focus, mostly on historical asides, but that’s no excuse. I should have had a better process to make sure the write-through covered all the text that we not directly sourced.
Anderson’s publisher, Hyperion, considers his response to be satisfactory and will correct the errors in future editions.
From a review of A Christmas Tale, a movie by French director Arnaud Desplechin:
Artists who believe in the mystique of originality are often reluctant to reveal their inspirations. But the magpielike Mr. Desplechin revels in what the writer Jonathan Lethem has called the ecstasy of influence. “I didn’t invent anything,” he said. “Being a director is not such a grand thing. My job is just to show the audience what I love.”
The funny thing about the “ecstasy of influence” quote is that it was used by Lethem in a well-known Harpers article about plagiarism that was itself, in Lethem’s words, “stole, warped, and cobbled together” from a variety of other sources, which sources he lists at the conclusion to the article.
The phrase “the ecstasy of influence,” which embeds a rebuking play on Harold Bloom’s “anxiety of influence,” is lifted from spoken remarks by Professor Richard Dienst of Rutgers.
The ecstasy of influence would make a good name for this here blog. (via snarkmarket, another ecstatic influence fan)
Regarding the food plagiarism business from yesterday, Ed Levine reports that he visited both restaurants yesterday and has some further thoughts on the situation. I think he nails it with this observation: “He was her right-hand man for six years, with complete and unfettered access to her creativity, recipes, craftsmanship, and even the combination to her safe. Charles is a smart, fiercely independent, tough-minded chef and businessperson who misplaced her trust when she gave her chief lieutenant all that access. McFarland, bereft of his own ideas, decided to open what is, for all intents and purposes, a clone of Pearl.”
Rebecca Charles, owner of the Pearl Oyster Bar in NYC, a seafood place modeled after hundreds of similar restaurants in New England offering similar menus, is suing a former employee (of six years) for copying too closely her restaurant and menu in opening his new place, Ed’s Lobster Bar.
Many parallels here to the design/art/film world…what is mere inspiration versus outright theft? The key question in these kinds of cases for me is: does the person exercise creativity in the appropriation? Did they add something to it instead of just copying or superficially changing it? Clam shacks are everywhere in New England, but an upscale seafood establishment with a premium lobster roll is a unique creative twist on that concept brought to NYC by Charles. An upscale clam shack blocks away from a nearly identical restaurant at which the owner used to work for six years…that seems a bit lame to me, not the work of a creative restaurateur. Who knows how this stuff is going to play out legally; it’s a complex issue with lots of slippery slope potential.
Meg has more thoughts on the issue and Ed Levine weighs in over at Serious Eats with information not found in the NY Times article. It was Ed who first raised the issue about Ed’s Lobster Bar earlier in the month.
Update: I forgot to link to the menus above. Here’s the menu for Pearl Oyster Bar and here’s the menu for Ed’s Lobster Bar. For comparison, here are the menus for a couple of traditional clam shacks: the Clam Box in Ipswich, MA and Woodman’s in Essex, MA.
Did Vladimir Nabokov deliberately take the idea for Lolita from a 1916 short story of the same name or did he suffer from cryptomnesia? Cryptomnesia is when you consciously forget previously learned information but subconsciously remember it. (via george, who says “It’s certainly a weird concept, that an idea can have a quantum state of being both remembered and new, and one that I think deserves more attention.”)
Designer Michael Bierut confesses: “I am a plagiarist”. “…my mind is stuffed full of graphic design, graphic design done by other people. How can I be sure that any idea that comes out of that same mind is absolutely my own?”
Email correspondance between members of The New Yorker staff and one of Caitlin Flanagan’s sources in writing this story about Mary Poppins’ author P.L. Travers. The source, Travers biographer Valerie Lawson, wrote a letter to the editor complaining that Flanagan had not properly attributed items in the story to Lawson. “The exchange offers a glimpse at the sausage-factory aspect of how the magazine handles complaints, and raises interesting questions about what journalists owe, in terms of recognition, to their sources.”
Crunks ‘05: The Year in Media Errors and Corrections (and plagiarists). My favorite: “Norma Adams-Wade’s June 15 column incorrectly called Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk a socialist. She is a socialite.”