Knight Foundation now regrets paying Jonah Lehrer

The Knight Foundation now regrets paying Jonah Lehrer a $20,000 speaking fee.

“Controversial speakers should have platforms, but Knight Foundation should not have put itself into a position tantamount to rewarding people who have violated the basic tenets of journalism,” says Knight, which invited the disgraced journalist to speak Tuesday at its Media Learning Seminar. “We regret our mistake.”

Knight said it was considering Lehrer as a speaker before he was exposed as a plagiarist last summer. After that happened, “we accepted the risk and invited him … to talk about decision-making to a conference of people for whom that is a necessary skill. We did not tell him what to say, but knew he would include an exploration of his own self-destructive decision-making, and thought that might make his talk even more poignant.”

Knight says of the $20,000 it paid Lehrer:

Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer

The fee was not unusual for a well-known author to address a large conference. But it was simply not something Knight Foundation, given our values, should have paid. We continue to support journalism excellence in the digital age. And we do not want our foundation partners to think that journalism controversies are too hot for them to handle. Instead, we want to send the message that when things go wrong the best action is to admit the error and get back to work.

* Knight Foundation regrets paying Lehrer speaking fee (knightfoundation.org)
* Lehrer: “Here’s the text of my speech. I’m deeply sorry for what I’ve done” (@lehrer)
* Plagiarism pays: Lehrer gets $20,000 for speech (nytimes.com)
* Hamilton Nolan: No more paid journalism jobs for people like Lehrer (gawker.com)

UPDATE: The Knight Foundation gave Lehrer as much as it gave the Miami-Dade Public Library “to encourage creative writing among the community’s teens.” It donated just a bit more — $25,000 — to the Minnesota State Fair “for a participatory public art experience called the giant sing-along.” Knight’s latest 990 tax form has more grants and the foundation leaders’ salaries. (President Alberto Ibarguen was paid $649,031 in the latest reporting period, while strategic initiatives vice-president Paula Lynn Ellis — a Poynter trustee and former Knight Ridder executive — was paid $298,791.)

* Form 990 for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Inc. (guidestar.org)

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