Before television, a stand-up comedian could develop 60 minutes of material and perform it for the rest of his or her life at different theaters around the country. With the arrival of Johnny Carson and late-night talk shows, millions of people could instantly enjoy a comedian's best 15 minutes--which immediately became stale. Now with YouTube, Comedy Central, other broadcast outlets, and DVDs the best comedians have to develop an entirely new routine every year. As outlets proliferate, so does the demand for something fresh.
Writers working the commentator/public intellectual niche face a similar challenge. They must crank out the content to maintain their brand. As we go to press, Fareed Zakaria, author, Time columnist, and CNN host, was suspended for plagiarizing a paragraph from a Jill Lepore New Yorker essay for his column in Time. But the more egregious example this past month was Jonah Lehrer. At first, we learned that Lehrer was "plagiarizing" from himself, borrowing liberally from previous columns and articles as he produced new ones. More a journalistic faux pas than a fireable offense.
But then an investigation into his well-reviewed Imagine: How Creativity Works revealed that he had fabricated quotations to support his thesis. Sales of the book have been suspended and unsold copies recalled, and Lehrer has resigned from his position at the New Yorker.
Lehrer came to my attention through his first book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist, but I really began to enjoy and admire his work through...