The Chronicle of Philanthropy notes with highlights, the Knight Foundation's $20K payment for a speech at a journalism conference to a former New Yorker reporter, Jonah Lehrer, "caught out using work by others without attribution and fabricating quotes."
"Knight Pays Plagiarizer Jonah Lehrer $20,000 for Speech" hit like a lead balloon in the non-profit world where that amount represents a hefty percentage of most do-good'ers annual wages.
The Foundation defended its honorarium testily: it hoped to help attendees become "more savvy about developing the promise and minimizing the perils of journalism projects." Umm. Really?
At first, I thought ... well, banks hire ex-crooks help boost their security. Internet firms hire former hackers to harden networks against violations.
But then I remembered how the Knight Foundation funded the 2008 Miami Film Festival that, the day before the festival began, yanked a film ("Sugar Babies", check our archives) critical of the Dominican Republic farms owned by the Fanjul billionaires.
The Fanjul's Dominican property was in the news recently as the alleged site of a for-hire assignation between US Senator Bob Menendez and an underaged prostitute, calling to question the entire relationship of Congressmen and the Dominican Republic's Fanjuls.
One would think the Foundation would be interested in the conditions of virtual slavery, shown in the film, at the Fanjul's Dominican operations. The Foundation never rebuked the festival, offered its regrets, or issued any comment about the censorship at the heart of one of Miami's signature high society events it funded.
Censorship of journalism and marginalization of journalists is at the heart of the Knight Foundation mission, and in the context of the Foundation's failure to penalize even one of its most important local grantees -- and most visible -- is the appropriate context to consider the hiring of a plagiarizer to speak at a Foundation event for $20K.
These lapses should raise other questions. For example, how does one first describe then justify the relationship between the Foundation's board of directors (Cesar Alvarez, then chairman, is managing partner at Greenberg Traurig, the law firm that did more than any other law firm in South Florida to guarantee the suburban sprawl that mars the region) and a Miami Herald that has been quiet, complacent -- dormant is the word -- on the circumstances leading up to the worst housing crash since the Great Depression. The political origins and financial arrangements -- for example, the failed bank called US Century -- never crossed the lens of Miami Herald readers.
The reformed Lehrer, no longer presumably a plagiarist, might have had some observations if he were asked. But no one is asking. In Miami, no one ever asks because prevailing wisdom in high society circles -- except for a few intrepid journalists-- is along the lines, some stones have to be left unturned.