Joe McGinniss and “The Rogue”

Best selling author Joe McGinnis was on one of the cable book review 
channels yesterday and it was a most interesting interview.

McGinniss’s real crowning achievement was back in the 80s with “Fatal Vision”; a true masterpiece shat showed what he’s capable of in terms of investigative journalism. But he also showed he wasn’t entirely trustworthy. He started out to write a sympathetic missive about (Dr) Jeff McDonald, who had already been more or less acquitted in the deaths of his wife and daughters in 1970, then was brought to trial again in 1979 for murder based on new evidence. Not that any of it matters but I happened to know personally some of the forensic doctors (and one police officer) deeply involved in the case, including the pathologist that did the autopsy on one of the alleged principals, Helena Stoeckley. But that’s another story.

McDonald is almost exactly my age, born in Oct 1943 and his next parole hearing is in 2020. He will more than likely die in prison. He has never admitted guilt and some psychiatrists think he has convinced himself of his innocence and actually believes the story he gave in 1970, which has been thoroughly discredited at every level. The case remains a prime example of the fact that no matter what the factual evidence of guilt is, someone somewhere will use the media to discount all of it and continue to claim a conspiracy to railroad an innocent. The only difference between McDonald in 1979 and Simpson and Casey Anthony in the new millennium is it’s now almost impossible to find anyone guilty of anything once the media circus fires up.
Interestingly, McGinniss sat through the O.J. Simpson trial intending to write a book about it, but after Simpson was found innocent, he returned the million-dollar advance and refused to write the book, claiming the trial was a “farce”.

McGinniss, like virtually everyone else that looked into this case became quickly convinced that McDonald “couldn’t have not done it”. But he didn’t inform McDonald of his change of heart and continued to be privy to inside information within the defense team. Following the conviction, McDonald published “Fatal Vision” and was immediately sued by McDonald, and had to pay an undisclosed sum (McDonald didn’t get any of it). Janet Malcolm then trashed him in a New York Times editorial for professional irresponsibility. That said, Fatal Vision is a masterpiece must-read, as it very effectively nailed the last spike into McDonald’s defense casket.

McGinniss became interested in the media circus surrounding the Palins as it became apparent that the hype surrounding them didn’t seem to be justified by the real history of their actual accomplishments. So he rented a house right next door to the Palins and set about collecting information about them. McGinniss says there was never an invasion of privacy issue and there seems no evidence of this. He just sat on his porch and tapped into a laptop the aura of folks in Wasilla who chose to be interviewed by him, not very many after the Palins put out the word that political or otherwise retribution would be in order. 

Then begins the tale.

McGinniss usually refers to them as “the Palins” since the husband is deeply involved in everything Sarah does, even as governor. Interviews reveal their propensity to levy retribution on anyone that displeased them, on any level, for extended periods of time. The two-year program of retribution toward the ex-husband of her sister following a bitter divorce, confirmed as an ethics violation by a pluralistic investigation board. It appears many are afraid of her and usually with good reason.

He also points out that she is in fact a real religious right wing advocate as well, and if put in any position of authority would not hesitate to start inserting religions principles she personally advocates into the law wherever possible. He has made numerous speeches in which she has said “the Lord” had guided her and should guide the country as well. All things considered, he paints her as a very scary and expert manipulator of the media and of the public whose program if ever elected would be very different than her rhetoric during a campaign. 

Once the tabloid media got hold of this, as always, a decision was made as to the best way to present it that sold the most access to their sponsors. It was decided to sell it as a personally biased diatribe of a political candidate for the personal aggrandizement of an author who had a history of doing it before. Then, as usual, the march of pundits discrediting McGinniss, none of whom had read the book.

Quoting from his blog: “I was slightly annoyed that the cowardly lion Keith Olbermann, after bashing my book and me on the Bill Maher show–even while admitting that he hadn’t read it–canceled my scheduled appearance with him last week, apparently afraid to confront me face to face”.

So the bottom line is it’s difficult to know how much if any of “The Rogue” is completely truthful or expertly bent to serve the ends of a biased author who can make any fact more or less sympathetic to his cause. One thing is certain-apologists for Palin will never believe a word of it and opponents will take all of it as gospel. The end result is the proverbial dilemma of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. Most or all of it will continue under the broad rubric of “entertainment” as the real chances of Sarah Palin becoming President approach zero. The book is probably worth a look anyway.

A more sympathetic editorial can be found at:

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