Can Jonah Lehrer make a comeback?, ctd

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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The other day, I wondered whether Jonah Lehrer, who had just resigned his position at the New Yorker when it became clear he had fabricated Bob Dylan quotes in a recent book, could make a comeback.

After all, I reasoned that he was young, just 31, and that this fact might work in his favor. Perhaps people are more forgiving of youthful indiscretions?–or, at the very least, isn’t it true that a young person has more time to forge a comeback?

But during a Bloggingheads conversation with my friendly sparring partner, Bill Scher, I was disabused of this notion.  As Scher pointed out to me,

The reason why [Doris Kearns] Goodwin and [Mike] Barnicle and [Maureen] Dowd didn’t fall from grace is that they were already established. They already had lots of elite friends — already had people in media perches willing to give them a second chance.

I mean, Doris Kearns Goodwin took a bit of a powder [break], and then she got back on the “Meet the Press” roundtable soon after. All is forgotten. Mike Barnicle, you know, took a little vacation and then got back on the MSNBC pundit roundtable. Now he’s permanently ensconced at “Morning Joe.”

Whereas, if you’re younger, and you haven’t built up that friendship network yet, who’s going to pick you up when you’re down?

(Watch our full discussion here.)

These, of course, are not perfect analogies. Dowd may have inadvertently lifted a line, whereas the fabulist Glass fabricated characters and quotes.

Still, anecdotally, at least, there appears to be a correlation between age and the ability to withstand such an accusation. Older, more established journalists seem more likely to overcome this serious charge, whereas younger, less experienced journalists (such as Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, et al.,) are generally tainted for (what today, at least, appears to be) life.

Bill seems to put a lot of stock in building up a network of friends and supporters, and perhaps he is right.

But I also wonder if perhaps there is more to it than that. Is it possible that older, wiser, scribblers are more likely to persevere through difficult times, whereas younger writers might throw up his hands in disgrace, and simply go into hiding? This is possible. It’s also possible that it is the readers — not just “elite friends” — who are more willing to stand by a writer they’ve been supporting for years, even if when it becomes clear he has committed this most unpardonable sin.

Regardless, this theory does not bode well for young Jonah Lehrer…

Matt K. Lewis