Now, he's resigned from "The New Yorker" and has issued a public apology. According to the New York Times, Lehrer stated "The lies are over now. . . . I understand the gravity of my position. I want to apologize to everyone I have let down, especially my editors and readers." In my opinion, he should have stopped there. However, he added: "I will do my best to correct the record and ensure that my misquotations and mistakes are fixed." Really? Misquotations? He makes it sound like he made an innocent mistake, as if the whole thing were a misunderstanding or an innocent accident.
The man who exposed the fraud was a Dylan aficionado, Michael Moynihan; he read Imagine, searched for the source of one of Lehrer's Dylan quotes, and after Lehrer responded to Moynihan's inquiries with several lies, Lehrer ultimately confessed "that he had made it up." According to Moynihan, "Lehrer had spliced together Dylan quotes from separate published interviews, [and] when the quotes were accurate, he took them well out of context." Sounds intentional, not a case of mere "misquotation."
An apology from a hoaxer doesn't seem to cut it these days. Already, Lehrer's publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, has announced that it would recall printed copies of Imagine. If this hoax becomes anything like James Frey's, it wouldn't be surprising if it results in the issuance of refunds to readers who had bought Imagine thinking if was non-fiction, only to find it was not all it is supposed to be.
It will be interesting to see how this pans out. His book sales are likely to dwindle (people tend to be less interested in reading non-fiction when it actually isn't true), and it is unclear if he will be able to salvage his writing career.
The tradition of the literary hoax is alive and well. And once again, a hoaxer has fooled his publisher, reviewers, and readers before the hoax was revealed.
"Jonah Lehrer Resigned From New Yorker After Making Up Dylan Quotes for His Book," by Julie Bosman, New York Times, July 30, 2012 (appearing on Media Decoder Blog).
"Due Diligence on Dylan: Writer Found Fraud in First Chapter," by Christine Kearney, Chicago Tribune, Aug. 1, 2012.