Oh dear. It’s been a rough couple of weeks for erstwhile New Yorker editor Jonah Lehrer. He was recently busted by Reason and Tablet contributor Michael Moynihan for fabricating Bob Dylan quotes for his book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works.” That led directly to his “erstwhile editor” status.
But it looks like the curtain of shame hasn’t closed on Lehrer just yet. The Skeptical Libertarian’s Kevin Breen was curious about a quote from “Imagine” that was purportedly from Teller, Penn Jillette’s silent partner in magical mischief. According to Lehrer, Teller had said, “I was definitely on the verge of giving up the dream of becoming a magician. I was ready to go back home and become a high-school Latin teacher.” Curious, Breen went straight to the supposed source himself to learn if the quote was accurate. What he learned when he spoke with Teller was, well, telling:
Ironically, one of the most damning pieces of evidence against the quote’s validity lies in a 2009 Wired article by Lehrer himself, which discussed the same period in Teller’s career, but described a satisfied Teller, who thought he’d be happy to perform in small theaters his whole life. It’s hard to reconcile this with the Teller found in Imagine, who was just about ready to give up on magic.
Even more problematic is that the only source Lehrer cites for the material in the book is an interview conducted with Teller on January 8, 2009, just a few months before the Wired article was published. If both of Lehrer’s accounts are accurate, Teller wouldn’t have had to just convey two apparently contradictory versions of the same story, he would have had to convey them almost simultaneously.
Be sure to read the whole thing. Breen really did his homework. But perhaps he’s still only scratched the surface; if Lehrer felt comfortable fake-quoting Bob Dylan and Teller, who knows how many other celebrities have “said” things they didn’t actually say? Are any of the quoted sources in “Imagine” genuine?
At this point, we imagine that Lehrer wishes he could make himself disappear.