Both have been famous and highly-compensated since they were ridiculously young; both hold extremely high opinions of themselves. And both of them were in the spotlight yesterday.
Lehrer gave a speech about journalistic ethics in Miami for a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation-sponsored Media Learning Seminar. He spoke frankly about the errors he’d made–plagiarizing, inventing quotations, repurposing old material for pay, misrepresenting scientific research–that precipitated his abrupt fall from grace last summer, and about the Standard Operating Procedures he would put in place in the future to prevent himself from giving into the temptations that, as he put it, his high IQ and busy schedule had left him prey to. When word leaked out that he’d been paid $20,000 for his act of contrition, the Twittersphere was predictably irate. “Jonah Lehrer’s $20,000 apology,” Slate tweeted, “was conniving, misleading, and arrogant.” Forbes said he was trying to “humblebrag himself back into journalism’s good graces.”
The WND columnist and rock star Ted Nugent, who calls himself “Rosa Parks with a loud guitar” (the quote is from his 2001 volume, Gods, Guns, & Rock’n’Roll ), got a lot of media attention when Texas Representative Steve Stockman invited him to attend the president’s State of the Union address as his guest.
Gun control advocates predicted that the gambit would backfire. Looking at the headlines and Twitter trends this morning, it doesn’t seem to have made anywhere near as much noise as Marco Rubio’s ill-timed gulp. Nugent was surrounded by reporters after the speech, but his comments (“every time he is done speaking he either does just the opposite or nothing at all…My favorite part was when I couldn’t hear clearly…I didn’t have to get angry”) have gotten less play than a newly resurrected interview he gave to High Times magazine in 1977, in which the super-patriotic rocker bragged about how he’d evaded the draft (“Do you think I was going to lay down my guitar and go play army? Give me a break!…..I had a career Jack…..I wasn’t a gutter dog”). Nugent told the interviewer a long story (which he has since denied) about how he didn’t wash or brush his teeth for a month, shitted his pants, and loaded up on meth before his exam. Rich stuff from a guy who gives the finger to hippies everywhere, saying “You Talk Sunshine, I Shit Napalm” (also from his book).
Except he seems completely oblivious to the irony. “I’d make an incredible army man,” he said in that same interview. “I’d be a colonel before you knew what hit you, and I’d have the baddest bunch of motherfucking killers you’d ever seen in my platoon. But I just wasn’t into it. I was too busy doing my own thing, you know?”
For all the contempt he has for soldiers and other public servants, Nugent is certain that they love him back; he told the Wall Street Journal that Secret Service men and capital policemen had assured him of as much last night. “A lot of the guys in various law enforcement departments tonight said thanks for saying what we’re not allowed to say….That’s some pretty powerful encouragement — and I’m scary when I’m encouraged that much.”
That policemen–who find themselves at the wrong ends of guns more than just about anyone but gutter dog soldiers–would give Ted Nugent the love seems as incongruous as Jonah Lehrer lecturing a roomful of journalists about the importance of fact checking. Nugent and Lehrer probably wouldn’t have a lot to say to each other if they ever shared a green room, but it’s funny how much alike they are when it comes to self-knowledge–or the lack thereof.