In our recent discussion of plagiarism and fake quotes, a commenter points to two recent posts by Mark Liberman (here and here) where Liberman links to about a zillion cases of journalists publishing quotes that were never said.
He goes into some detail about two journalists from the New Yorker: Jared Diamond, who created quotes from a some dude in Papua New Guinea (ironically, one of Diamond’s accusers here is the widow of Stephen Jay Gould), and Janet Malcolm, who not only apparently falsified quotes by a subject of one of her articles, she also may have faked the notes for her interviews.
I didn’t know that particular bit about Janet Malcolm, but I’ve felt very uncomfortable about her ever since she her apparent attempt to try to force a mistrial for a convicted killer. Between that case and her earlier The Journalist and the Murderer, Malcolm really does seem to have some sort of sympathy for people who kill their family members. She’s a good writer, but I still find this a bit creepy.
I find it odd that Lehrer was forced to resign, while Malcolm is still on the New Yorker staff.
I have an answer to that! Malcolm is an excellent, thoughtful writer with a unique take on things. Sometimes too unique, in my opinion (for example, in her sympathy for murderers), but arguably a great writer. Lehrer, on the other hand, is nothing special. His gimmick was that he was a boy wonder, and once he lost that, he’s just one more hack, there’s no particular reason for a top magazine to publish him, any more than a top statistics journal would solicit a review article from Ed Wegman. Lehrer is now in the uncomfortable position of having his work judged on its own merits.
P.S. I happened to have just read The Valachi Papers by Peter Maas. (I love those old fit-in-your-pocket paperbacks.) Valachi was a killer but still, while reading the book, I found myself rooting for him. Indeed, Maas, writes that he and others found Valachi likable. Still, Maas didn’t get all indignant that Valachi was in jail. He accepted that Valachi had done his crimes. In contrast, Malcolm seemed to feel that the murderer discussed in her article deserved some sort of exceptional legal representation that would get her off the hook. (In Malcolm’s defense, her subject killed only one person whereas Valachi was responsible for dozens of deaths. But still.)