Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault;
And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.
- from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar
Among the three-dozen-or-so people in the US that care about things like pop-science reporting and who’s a New Yorker staff writer, Jonah Lehrer has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons of late.
I don’t normally take time out to put in notes on behalf of people who have admitted to making false quotes, but the uproar over this strikes me as pure Schadenfreude. I mean, really, tablet [who broke the story] thinks they’re getting DDoS’ed?
It is funny when someone you knew becomes famous. I have 3 people in my life who have become famous after I met them (I am in touch with none of them). I’d like to think that a run-in with someone nearly a decade ago gives me a special insight into who they are. I’m obviously an idiot for thinking that, but I can’t help it. The other two famous people have public perceptions that match up with my experience of them perfectly. But Jonah’s public persona (which I think can be summed up by the word ‘douchebag’) is totally different from the guy I met.
I met Jonah in 2003: he had just won a scholarship you have probably heard of and I had won one a smaller one you probably haven’t. We and the two other winners had lunch together at a place just off Columbia’s campus.
I remember Jonah extremely well from this single meeting: he was far more polished than the rest of us and had already done so much (he had graduated early I think, and was researching for a Nobel Prize winner while working as a line chef at a famous restaurant on the side). I was in awe of him.
At the dinner celebrating the fact he won a Rhodes Scholarship, I think he could have been forgiven for being a little bit of a douche. But he wasn’t at all: I remember him being funny, modest and graceful.
So while others are burying Jonah, I’m remembering that he’s written some good stuff, some bad stuff, but that he was a good guy when I met him and I hope he can come out of these mistakes stronger than before.