Jonah Lehrer and the Blair-O-Meter: My effort to quantify media misdeeds

Earlier today, I posted a piece on on l’affaire Lehrer:

Last Tuesday, in a post on his eponymous media-news site, Jim Romenesko broke the news that best-selling author Jonah Lehrer had reused, almost word for word, the lead from an Oct. 15, 2011, Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal in a June 12 blog post for the New Yorker, where he’d recently been hired as a staff writer.  Within hours, other writers turned up evidence that Lehrer’s journalistic self-abuse wasn’t limited to a single recycled passage.

The cut-and-pasting hadn’t even been confined to Lehrer’s journalism: His latest book, “Imagine,” which debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times’s nonfiction bestseller list, had numerous passages that had previously appeared in Lehrer’s blog or periodical work. (For a full rundown of Lehrer’s transgressions, check out Edward Champion’s running tally, which has already been referred to as “the Starr report of the Lehrer affair.”)

At a time when charges of author deception have become commonplace – afflicting ink-stained wretches and presidents alike – how can you decide what, ultimately, matters at all? Journalism doesn’t have any official licensing body (and thank goodness for that), so anyone looking for a final rendering of judgment has been out of luck.

Until now! I’ve devised a new unit of measure — the Blair, named after former New York Times staffer Jayson Blair, whose spectacular 2003 flameout formed the backbone of my book about the Times, “Hard News” — that will let you know what the future should hold for would-be transgressors. Below is an explanation of the Blair scores for a sundry list of sins, as well as the career Blair total for some of the industry’s most infamous miscreants.

You can read the rest of the piece here; there’s also a slideshow show the Blair scores from everyone from Barack Obama to Mike Barnicle.

In a few hours, I’ll have some more about journalistic ethics in the latest installment of SciWriteLabs. This one will feature me, Deborah Blum, David Quammen, Jack Shafer, and Carl Zimmer talking about journalistic self-abuse, forgivable (and unforgivable) sins, and more.

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