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Joe McGinniss: The Journalist As ‘Psychological Detective’

Joe McGinniss author photoSome writers are myth-makers. Joe McGinniss, who died on March 10 at age 71 in Worchester, Mass., was the opposite.

Whether McGinniss was writing about the repackaging of Richard Nixon in The Selling of the President 1968 or Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald in the 1983 book Fatal Vision, McGinness liked to get up close and personal with a subject, gradually peel away a carefully crafted public persona like the leaves of an artichoke. In doing so, he usually became part of the story himself.

McGinniss’ most tempestuous subject was MacDonald, a physician and former Green Beret who was accused of killing his wife and two young children in 1970 and then trying to cover up the murders by faking a Manson-style home invasion by crazed hippies. McDonald invited McGinniss to attend his 1979 trial, apparently in the belief that the writer believed in his innocence. But McGinniss’ book, published after MacDonald’s conviction, portrayed him as an insidiously evil, manipulative serial liar. MacDonald filed a lawsuit, which McGinniss’s publisher ultimately settled out of court for $325,000, and New Yorker writer Janet Malcolm herself wrote a scathing book about McGinniss, The Journalist and the Murderer, in which she took him to task for deceiving MacDonald.

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But even if he concealed his own motives from his subjects to get to the real story, McGinniss considered himself blameless. “My only obligation from the beginning,” he once told a Newsday interviewer, “was to the truth.” For decades after the publication of Fatal Vision, he vigorously defended its factual accuracy.

Here are some facts about McGinniss, who described himself as a “psychological detective.”









In this 2007 interview, McGinniss talks about the challenge of living up to his early success. YouTube Preview Image


Photo: joemcginnis.net

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