When it turned out that Johann Hari had attributed quotes from his interviewee’s books to the actual conversations he was having with them, and then used those quotes out of context in his articles for the Independent newspaper, I was naturally befuddled. How could a young man of incredible talent, who had been awarded the Orwell Prize for his journalism in the Congo, be a fabricator?

I made peace with it and hoped that one day Hari would be able to share his gift with all of the Anglophone world again.

I hadn’t thought much of journalistic plagiarism after that point, at least until this last week when New Yorker writer and neuroscience wunderkind Jonah Lehrer quit his job with the aforementioned publication after it came to light that he had fabricated quotes he attributed to Bob Dylan. Yep, that’s right, Bobby Zimmerman.

What these two young men have in common is both have achieved an unprecedented level of professional accolades so early in their career, and have been pushed to keep publishing . Of course I don’t mean to in any way say that what they did was excusable—It wasn’t and isn’t.

I just mean to say that I understand, at least in the Lehrer case, of a lie that became bigger than it was supposed to be and that ultimately ended up hurting a lot of people. If that is in fact the case what happened with Lehrer, I think that a lot of people have done said and done things they regret (myself included), but that’s part of why being in the public sphere is such a big deal; we hold these persons to a higher level of accountability in part to show that our own society is marginally redeemable for the sins others commit.

That sounds like a lot of hyperbole probably, but its important to remember that when we hold people up, that we’re doing so for the right reasons, and that they also recognize their responsibility to the rest of us.

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