News of the Knight Foundation’s $20K speaker fee to exposed plagiarist Jonah Lehrer moved quickly through the media web, provoking negative press and, ultimately, an expression of regret by the foundation itself.
This alone, however, has not inspired critics of the foundation, who, in a series of comments on the Knight Foundation apology, raise pointed questions about the decision-making process that led to the payment in the first place:
- “What most astounds me about this whole affair is that no one, not a single person at the Knight Foundation raised their hand to say, hey guys, this might be a bad idea. Such an egregious lack of judgment. Makes you wonder who’s running the show over there.”
- “You are reacting to the negative press you received. Your apology is worse than the original ideia [sic.] to give Lehrer an Oprah-like platform.”
- “$20,000 ‘was not unusual for a well-known author.’ Is this The Onion? I thought I was on a journalism site. This “well-known author” talks about the possibility of never being published again because his ethical breaches have alienated all his previous outlets. Would you pay $20,000 — for many in this country a year’s salary – to a ‘well-known attorney’ who’s been disbarred?”
And so on.
Self-examination is generally a good thing, and Knight’s contrition is most welcome. Yet the commentators have some important points that still must be received and processed by the foundation. My own concern is whether the incidental and bureaucratic nature of the expenditure (described as “not unusual for a well-known author to address a large conference”) represents the foundation’s systemic disassociation from the actual needs and actual struggles of working journalists.