Resenting Jonah Lehrer

God knows how many species of schadenfreude have been loosed by the fate that befell wunderkind writer Jonah Lehrer today after he got caught fabricating quotes. The variety I personally plead guilty to was expressed by Michael Moynihan, the journalist whose sleuthing brought Lehrer's downfall. In an interview with The New York Observer, Moynihan said:

I really resent people who plagiarize, and I didn't catch Jonah Lehrer plagiarizing. But let me amend that: I resent people who cut corners, because I'm not the fastest writer in the world, and I spend time banging my head against the wall trying to make the words come out in the right way. I don't like people who cheat.

I can also relate to Moynihan's attempt, which is evident in this interview, to minimize the schadenfreude by trying not to take delight in Lehrer's downfall per se. Hate the sin, not the sinner. But, as a practical matter, the way to hold the incidence of sin down is to punish sinners.

But not for too long. The good news for Lehrer is that rehabilitation isn't far off. Remember the Doris Kearns Goodwin plagiarism scandal? Probably not, but you may well remember a subsequent bestseller by Goodwin, and the warm welcome she got on PBS and NPR during her book tour. For a country considered puritanical, America is actually a pretty forgiving place.

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Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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