UNDER REVIEW: Wired was forced to backtrack on Jonah Lehrer Wednesday evening after a torrent of criticism from media critics.
In the morning, a spokesman confirmed the journalist was still under contract at the magazine, even though he had been caught republishing old material and making up quotes in his book, “Imagine.”
This story first appeared in the August 16, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Lehrer may have been persona non grata everywhere else, but the way Wired saw it, even journalist frauds are expected to fulfill their contracts. Asked why the magazine did not end its relationship with the writer after revelations about his work, spokesman Jonathan Hammond told WWD, “It’s a question that will not be answered.”
The magazine expected him to complete a contract that demands a set number of features, Hammond said, while declining to divulge specifics.
News of the outstanding contract was first reported on Buzzfeed.
Lehrer had been a contributor at the magazine until June, when The New Yorker poached him for its Web site. Later, he resigned after he was exposed for attributing false quotes to Bob Dylan. His publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, took “Imagine” off book shelves.
At Wired, the revelations weren’t enough to terminate the contract that remained even after Lehrer left for The New Yorker. To some, it raised questions about Wired’s interpretation of ethics.
“The disgraced writer’s staying power at Wired confirms that there’s nothing even approaching an industry standard on how to handle proven cases of journalistic malpractice,” wrote Erik Wemple in The Washington Post.
Faced with such criticism, Wired changed its stance late Wednesday.
“After gathering the facts — from our inquiry and elsewhere — we’ll make a decision about whether Jonah’s byline will appear again at Wired,” read a statement on its Web site from managing editor Jacob Young.
Wired is still conducting a review of Lehrer’s online work. After reviewing his print features, the magazine “found nothing unusual,” the statement said.