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As Auden presents it, Benzedrine (and alcohol, coffee, and tobacco) really aren’t labor-saving devices. While they may offer a temporary and/or illusory payoff, they’re ultimately so problematic that poets in Auden’s time function essentially as they did in the Bronze Age: “Nearly everything still has to be done by hand.”
In the Web Age, alcohol and tobacco have new utility—reporters, if not poets, need something to help mitigate the stress that comes with knowing how powerfully their work might be scrutinized at any moment. Indeed, however effective the internal journalistic beatdowns of old were in getting reporters to toe the line, it’s hard to imagine Lehrer would not have chosen, say, a private slap on the wrist from the New Yorker’s David Remnick over the very public drubbing he has received since Michael Moynihan reported on his dissembling. And it’s equally hard to imagine that journalists everywhere aren’t noting Lehrer’s travails and subsequently taking solemn, self-inflicted oaths to pursue their craft with enough honesty, accuracy, and transparency to make an angel squirm.
All in all, this technologically driven drift toward ever-increasing accountability is a pretty sobering development for a profession that has historically served as a haven to a vast menagerie of hucksters, con artists, and truth-stretchers.
But if Lehrer serves as a terrifying example of how harsh the penalties can be for journalistic malfeasance these days, he also proves that misinformation can lodge itself pretty firmly in the public record even in the current environment of near-instantaneous verifiability and ubiquitous access to information. Take, for example, his efforts to convince the world that Pixar’s Emeryville headquarters only has two bathrooms.
This story has its genesis in Steve Jobs’ out-of-the-box notion that forcing Pixar’s entire staff to poop in the same place would ultimately lead to incredibly profitable children’s movies. In a book called The Second Coming of Steve Jobs that was published before Pixar had even moved into its new building, Alan Deutschman reported on Jobs’ unique team-building vision:
Then Steve dropped the real bomb: he said that there would be a single bathroom in the new complex. Only one bathroom for four hundred people. That way, it would serve as the central meeting place, the locus for informal discussions.
Alas, the men and women of Pixar weren’t quite ready to think that different!
The company’s main building actually features eight bathrooms. There are four on the first floor—two near the front of the building’s atrium and two further back. On the second floor, this set-up repeats itself. In his 2011 book Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson makes this pretty clear. He writes:
Jobs even went so far as to decree that there be only two huge bathrooms in the building, one for each gender, connected to the atrium…They reached a compromise: there would be two sets of bathrooms on either side of the atrium on both of the two floors.
But just to be sure, I emailed a Pixar publicist. I asked if there were eight total bathrooms in the building. I also asked if these bathrooms were all part of the building’s original construction, or if some had been added at a later time. “To my knowledge all eight bathrooms were in place when the building was built,” the publicist replied.
The earliest instance I could find of Lehrer mentioning Pixar’s bathrooms occurs in the June 2010 issue of Wired, in a passing reference that simply notes that the “building’s essential facilities [are] centrally located.” In a January 2012 issue of the New Yorker, he offers more detail:
Finally, he decided that the atrium should contain the only set of bathrooms in the entire building. (He was later forced to compromise and install a second pair of bathrooms.)
If this parenthetical was an attempt by the New Yorker’s legendary fact-checkers to police Lehrer, their victory was only temporary. In his book Imagine—which was published after the New Yorker article appeared but possibly printed beforehand—there is no reference to a second pair of bathrooms:
But that still wasn’t enough, which is why Jobs eventually decided to locate the only set of bathrooms in the atrium.
And when talking to reporters and addressing live audiences, Lehrer often goes into more inaccurate detail than he did in Imagine, insisting that Pixar has just two bathrooms. Here, for example, is how he tells the story on NPR’s All Things Considered in March 2012: