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14Feb 2013

Knight Foundation regrets its "mistake" in paying Jonah Lehrer $20,000 to speak at Knight conference.

The Knight Foundation on Wednesday said in an unbylined blog post that it "should not have put itself into a position tantamount to rewarding people who have violated the basic tenets of journalism. We regret our mistake" in inviting the disgraced journalist Jonah Lehrer to speak at a Knight conference, the post said.  

The admission followed a day of blistering and widespread criticism of Knight and Lehrer on Twitter and elsewhere online.

On Tuesday, Knight paid Lehrer $20,000 to deliver a speech that, in the view of many critics, amounted to a rehearsed apology aimed at rehabilitating his journalism career. It was the first time Lehrer had spoken publicly about the scandal that broke last summer, when he was tripped up by reporters and admitted plagiarizing others, reusing his own material in new stories and fabricating quotes. As Daniel Engber reminded us in Slate, he was also accused of altering anecdotes, blaming his editor for an error, and then repeating the error after it had been pointed out to him. His book Imagine was withdrawn by its publisher and Lehrer was dropped by The New Yorker and Wired.

Knight said it began to consider Lehrer as a speaker before the scandal broke and kept him on the program because it wanted him to talk about the neuroscience of decision-making. Knight did not say what is was paying Lehrer until it was asked repeatedly, and then said the $20,000 honorarium "was not unusual for a well-known author to address a large conference." I can think of quite a few well-known authors who might consider that unusual. "But it was simply not something Knight Foundation, given our values, should have paid," the foundation said.

-Paul Raeburn

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