So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

by

Jon Ronson

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Jonah Lehrer Character Analysis

Jonah Lehrer is a writer and journalist who was publicly shamed in 2012 when the journalist Michael Moynihan exposed a series of fabrications and embellishments in Lehrer’s nonfiction bestseller Imagine: How Creativity Works. Though Lehrer begged Moynihan not to publish the article exposing him, Moynihan felt a journalistic responsibility to call out Lehrer’s malfeasance. Following the publication of the article, Lehrer resigned from his position at the New Yorker and watched as his publisher withdrew and destroyed every copy of Imagine still in circulation. Lehrer vanished from the literary scene—but months later, he decided to give a public apology at a Knight Foundation luncheon for journalists in front of a screen broadcasting a live Twitter feed of users responding in real-time to his address. The speech didn’t go over well—and when it was revealed that Lehrer received a $20,000 speaking fee for the apology, he was again shamed mercilessly. Lehrer shopped a new book proposal around afterwards, but the proposal leaked, and it was found to contain plagiarized and recycled language. Jon Ronson uses the account of Lehrer’s repeated missteps and serious public shamings to illustrate how people who have been shamed often find that the emotional weight of the “public shaming process” numbs them to the point of appearing disaffected or even sociopathic, as Lehrer’s most virulent detractors called him at the height of his shaming.

Jonah Lehrer Quotes in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

The So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed quotes below are all either spoken by Jonah Lehrer or refer to Jonah Lehrer. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Riverhead Books edition of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed published in 2016.
Chapter 2 Quotes

We all have ticking away within us something we fear will badly harm our reputation if it got out—some “I’m glad I’m not that” at the end of an “I’m glad I’m not me.” […] Maybe our secret is actually nothing horrendous. Maybe nobody would even consider it a big deal if it was exposed. But we can’t take that risk. So we keep it buried.

Related Characters: Jon Ronson (speaker), Jonah Lehrer, Michael Moynihan
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

Almost none of the murderous fantasies were dreamed up in response to actual danger—stalker ex-boyfriends, etc. They were all about the horror of humiliation. Brad Blanton was right. Shame internalized can lead to agony. It can lead to Jonah Lehrer. Whereas shame let out can lead to freedom, or at least to a funny story, which is a sort of freedom too.

Related Characters: Jon Ronson (speaker), Brad Blanton, Jonah Lehrer
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

As it happens, Max’s and Andrew’s sins would in Puritan times have been judged graver than Jonah’s. Jonah, “guilty of lying or publishing false news,” would have been “fined, placed in the stocks for a period not exceeding four hours, or publicly whipped with not more than forty stripes,” according to Delaware law. Whereas Max and Andrew, having “defiled the marriage bed,” would have been publicly whipped (no maximum number was specified), imprisoned with hard labor for at least a year, and on a second offense, imprisoned for life.

But the shifting sands of shameworthiness had shifted away from sex scandals—if you’re a man—to work improprieties and perceived white privilege, and I suddenly understood the real reason why Max had survived his shaming. Nobody cared.

Related Characters: Jon Ronson (speaker), Max Mosley, Andrew Ferreira, Jonah Lehrer, Alexis Wright
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:
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Jonah Lehrer Character Timeline in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

The timeline below shows where the character Jonah Lehrer appears in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: I’m Glad I’m Not That
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...neurology of creativity entitled Imagine: How Creativity Works by a young, renowned writer named Jonah Lehrer who’d recently been embroiled in a scandal—there were claims that he’d been recycling some of... (full context)
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The first chapter of Lehrer’s book was centered around Bob Dylan, focusing on a period of creative stagnancy he experienced... (full context)
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Moynihan emailed Lehrer to tell him that he wanted to clarify where Lehrer had gotten some of his... (full context)
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But Lehrer—whom Moynihan began to suspect was lying—underestimated Moynihan’s research capabilities. Moynihan wasn’t just a good journalist;... (full context)
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On July 11th, Moynihan received a call from Lehrer. The two of them had a pleasant talk about Dylan and journalism. Moynihan insisted he... (full context)
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Lehrer began calling Moynihan repeatedly and begging him not to publish whatever he was working on.... (full context)
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Toward the end of July, Moynihan fielded a call from Lehrer. Finally, Lehrer agreed to make an on-the-record statement to Moynihan: he said, “I’m deeply sorry... (full context)
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Lehrer, too, began exhibiting signs of extreme stress. He called Moynihan repeatedly during the next several... (full context)
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...his job after another journalist exposed his lies. But Glass had invented whole scenes and scenarios—Lehrer had only embellished a handful of quotes. Moynihan felt “trapped” in the situation he’d created—he... (full context)
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A few hours before the story appeared online, Moynihan and Lehrer had one final phone call. Moynihan told Lehrer that he felt “like shit,” and Lehrer... (full context)
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...narrative, too, might have been one Moynihan constructed to reimagine himself as the David to Lehrer’s Goliath. At the same time, Ronson recognized that Moynihan was “traumatized” by what he’d done... (full context)
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When Ronson, at a party, recounted the Moynihan and Lehrer story to a film director with whom he was making conversation, the director was spellbound... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Wilderness
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Ronson recalls going hiking in Runyon Canyon with Jonah Lehrer, who insisted that he did not belong in Ronson’s book. Lehrer claimed that Americans only... (full context)
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A former Rhodes Scholar, Lehrer published his first book on neuroscience when he was still very young. He wrote books... (full context)
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Lehrer essentially disappeared after his shaming, abandoning his Twitter presence and ignoring interview requests. Ronson was... (full context)
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On the plane home from Los Angeles, Ronson read the introduction to Lehrer’s surprisingly stark and contrite speech. But he was surprised to find that the speech quickly... (full context)
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Lehrer denied Ronson’s request to accompany him to Miami to give the address at the luncheon,... (full context)
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Lehrer “was perceived to have misused his privilege,” and the internet was responding accordingly. Some tweets... (full context)
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Moynihan, too, told Ronson he felt that Lehrer’s apology was halfhearted, as if Lehrer were on “autopilot.” But Ronson could sense some bitterness... (full context)
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Realizing that Jonah Lehrer had been subjected to something that would’ve been considered “appalling” centuries ago, Ronson started to... (full context)
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Ronson reached out to Lehrer again, and Lehrer consented to a lengthier interview. He admitted that it was a mistake... (full context)
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Lehrer told Ronson he recalled shutting down emotionally as critical tweets began pouring in on the... (full context)
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Four months later, Lehrer’s agent Andrew Wylie began shopping a new book proposal of Lehrer’s to publishers. Its title... (full context)
Chapter 4: God That Was Awesome
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...Sacco wasn’t a racist, so attacking her wasn’t “punching up.” And neither was attacking Jonah Lehrer in real time as he issued a public apology. Both lives had been ruined for... (full context)
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...Sacco asked who else Ronson was interviewing for his book, he told her about Jonah Lehrer and about how Lehrer’s “broken[ness]” in the wake of his public shaming was often mistaken... (full context)
Chapter 9: A Town Abuzz over Prostitution and a Client List
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...was stronger than ever and he was happy. Ronson was stunned; Justine Sacco and Jonah Lehrer had been annihilated, but for some reason, Ferreira’s transgression had made those around him see... (full context)
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...at the height of early public shamings, Ferreira’s sins would’ve been graver than Sacco’s or Lehrer’s, but contemporary public shamings seem to sort of ignore sex scandals involving white men and... (full context)
Chapter 10: The Near Drowning of Mike Daisey
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Daisey’s transgression was similar to Jonah Lehrer’s: he had been caught lying about a trip to Shenzen, China, during which he met... (full context)
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For people like Jonah Lehrer and Justine Sacco, though, there was no alternative narrative to fall back on. Their flaws... (full context)
Chapter 13: Raquel in a Post-Shaming World
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Thinking about Gilligan’s words, Ronson found himself looking at Jonah Lehrer’s story through new eyes. He recalled Lehrer’s discomfort with displaying emotions, and how that discomfort... (full context)