The Knight Foundation regrets paying disgraced journalist Jonah Lehrer $20,000 to speak about his plagiarism scandal, the organization said in a post on its website.
The foundation apologized on Wednesday night after journalists and media watchers complained that it paid the speaking fee to Lehrer, who was forced to resign from the New Yorker and Wired last year after admitting to plagiarism, quote fabrication and lying to a reporter who discovered his transgressions.
“In retrospect, as a foundation that has long stood for quality journalism, paying a speaker’s fee was inappropriate,” the foundation wrote in a post on its website. "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. We regret our mistake."
Lehrer was caught recycling portions of his own published work in different blog posts and fabricating Bob Dylan quotes in his bestseller, "Imagine: How Creativity Works." The problems snowballed as editors reviewed his work and found passages lifted from other writers.
Knight said it was considering Lehrer as a speaker before his plagiarism scandal last year, and took a risk inviting him to speak after he was publicly shamed for his journalistic misdeeds.
"We asked him to talk about decision-making to a conference of people for whom that is a necessary skill," Knight said. "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."
The foundation said it paid Lehrer along with the other speakers. But, given its values, it said it should not have shelled out any money to the writer.
"It was simply not something Knight Foundation, given our values, should have paid," the organization said in the post. "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."