That Jonah Lehrer was finally fired from Wired after resigning from The New Yorker should not surprise, it was only a matter of time. His patterns of plagiarism, fabrication, and recycling his own material effectively ended his career even before the official end came. It was the same with Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass. But that is not really what interests me.
What fascinates me most about the whole Jonah Lehrer affair is that while the media cannot stop talking about it, the general public does not really care at all. True, there is nothing the media loves to talk about more than itself, but while the Blair scandal was national news for weeks, Lehrer’s crimes–which are quite serious–have barely elicited a shrug outside of newsrooms. I wonder why that is. Is it because Lehrer was an online contributor (re: blog) whereas Blair wrote print articles (considered more serious)? Is it because Blair was a fixture at the New York Times whereas Lehrer wrote for Wired; because he was relatively new at The New Yorker did his crimes not taint the magazine’s brand? Does the background of the plagiarists have something to do with it?
I have another theory. I think the public may just be too jaded to care. While the media has a very high image of itself, the public really hates the media in a way that is unprecedented. It is a self-inflicted wound, less from people like Lehrer, Blair, and Glass, and more because of people like Blitzer, Hannity, and Olbermann. Journalism is not about truth it is about ratings and circulation–now more so than ever in the era of the mega corporations that control print, online, and television news. Journalism today is also about “parity” at the expense of facts (a problem given that a sizable portion of America simply disregards reality on a regular basis.) At some point there is so much unnecessary noise and so little enlightenment, people just tune out.
Maybe that’s what happened in the Jonah Lehrer case. People stopped caring about the media, so the media alone cares about Jonah Lehrer.