Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A quantum of umbrage: Twenty thousand doesn't buy as much as it used to

(Updated below.)

That's how much the Knight Foundation paid Jonah Lehrer -- a man now remembered only, if at all, for the extent to which he committed serial journalistic fraud for a long time at some of the top publications in America -- to speak for an hour at their Media Learning Seminar.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation describes its mission as the support of “transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts.” Apparently, to lead this organization one must have one's irony glands removed; after Lehrer's prepared remarks, the president and CEO of the foundation appeared on stage with him for a Q&A session. I'd like to think that the photos of that moment would eventually embarrass the CEO, but I doubt if they will. He should be embarrassed to be in the same area code as Lehrer.

A spokesperson for the foundation said that an honorarium -- in this case, $20,000 per hour -- for an outside speaker was not unusual. “Outside” speaker is right: the man should be an ethical pariah, not the recipient of a foundation check for roughly half of the median household income in the US (plus lunch -- don't forget the lunch) in exchange for an hour of Woe Is Me-ism.

Update: The Lehrer story, linked to above, was the top post on poynter.org's site this afternoon. Take a look at the story that came in at number two:

Asked and answered.

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