Sarah Palin announced on her Facebook page that Joe McGinniss, author of the infamous book Fatal Vision that chronicled the story of Jeffrey MacDonald, has rented the house right next door to hers. It seems he’s chosen her has the subject of his next book. Lucky her. While she keeps the tone of her post upbeat and positive, it’s clear she is disturbed to know that someone so hostile and antagonistic toward her is watching her and her family’s every move.
Since Palin published her post, the blogosphere has been all atwitter about this development. Many people find it creepy. Those in the tried and true anti-Palin camp say she’s the one who’s out of line and criticize her for being “unprofessional and paranoid.”
Glenn Beck was equally disturbed at McGinniss’ move and went on the offensive by firing a shot across McGinniss’ publisher’s bow:
McGinniss’ publisher responded with a statement that read in part:
“Well regarded for his in-depth, up-close reporting, Mr. McGinniss will be highly respectful of his subject’s privacy as he investigates her public activities.”
Well regarded? Highly respectful? I’d like to know which Joe McGinniss they’re talking about because it isn’t the Joe McGinniss who moved next door to Sarah Palin.
Let’s take a look at how McGinniss put together his book Fatal Vision, the story about Jeffrey MacDonald, and see how well regarded and highly respectful he is.
Joe McGinniss was hired by MacDonald’s defense team to write a book that would exonerate him. McGinniss, to research his book, became MacDonald’s shadow during the trial. He had full access to every aspect of his defense. He even moved in with him for a while.
He became MacDonald’s most loyal supporter. He wrote letters to him in which he professed his belief that he was innocent. Joe McGinniss gained MacDonald’s confidence to the point that MacDonald opened his soul to him. He told McGinniss everything: about his relationship with his wife, his father in law, his kids. Everything. Through it all, McGinniss continued to tell MacDonald that he was on his side and that he would make sure the world knew of MacDonald’s innocence. MacDonald was eventually convicted, but McGinniss remained loyal and told him to be patient until the book came out because it would prove his innocence and the nation would rally to his side
When the book was finally published, MacDonald realized he had been brutally deceived. McGinniss portrayed MacDonald as a psychopathic, enraged, drug crazed murderer. It turned out the entire time McGinniss fawned over MacDonald and told him how much he believed in his innocence, McGinniss was writing the exact opposite.
MacDonald was so disgusted at McGinniss’ deception that he filed a federal lawsuit against him. During the course of the trial McGinniss admitted under oath during questioning by MacDonald’s lawyer that he didn’t even believe the theory he promoted in the book:
Fourteen years ago, Joe McGinniss’s best-selling book, Fatal Vision, depicted MacDonald as guilty. McGinniss theorized that MacDonald had abused diet pills, had suffered a violent amphetamine psychosis, and in a fit of rage, had murdered his family because one of the children wet the bed. The book and the pursuant movie convinced millions that this actually occurred. Yet, in a sworn deposition on October 30, 1986, McGinniss, incredibly, admitted he did not personally believe his own theory. He explained, under oath, that he had introduced the diet pill theory as a dramatic device in his “new journalism” where the story is more important than the facts. When asked why he said that he’d learned MacDonald had ingested an overdose of diet pills (which he had not learned at all), he said he hadn’t wanted to give his readers the same old “rehash of the trial.”
McGinniss finally revealed his true feelings about his central theory, the theory that had made him rich, and had convinced millions of people that MacDonald was guilty. Under oath, during hard questions by MacDonald’s attorney, he admitted, “I’m not convinced that it actually happened.”
The trial ended in a 5-1 hung jury in MacDonald’s favor. According to MacDonald’s account, “the hold out juror had refused to deliberate after fellow jurors rebuffed her attempts to spend time listening to her views on animal rights.”
McGinniss paid MacDonald $325,000 to avoid a retrial he knew he would surely lose.
Janet Malcolm wrote about MacDonald’s law suit and Joe McGinniss’ shocking duplicity in her book The Journalist and the Murderer.
In the early 90’s Jerry Allen Potter and Fred Bost took up MacDonald’s story and reexamined the case against him. What they found really was shocking. The authors, through Freedom of Information Act requests, learned that numerous documents, pieces of physical evidence, and witness testimony that supported MacDonald’s account of what happened the night his family was murdered had been suppressed by the judge and the prosecution. Potter and Bost published it in their book Fatal Justice that outlines how Jeffrey MacDonald is innocent. The author of this San Francisco Chronicle book review detailed some of the evidence that was suppressed, and the details from this account alone are so damning that I could not help but yell at my computer screen, “why the hell is this man still in prison?” Take a look:
Relying on documents released under the Freedom of Information Act — more than 10,000 pages of investigative reports, witness statements, affidavits, handwritten lab notes, transcripts, official letters and other documents, Potter and Bost deftly chart a snowballing chain of events leading to a virtual legal whiteout by the time of MacDonald’s 1979 trial.
The authors say that key findings supporting MacDonald’s version of events — that a Manson-like group had committed the crimes — were never presented to the jury. They found, for example, evidence of fresh candle wax drippings that did not match any candles in the home and were found precisely where MacDonald reported he saw flickering candlelight while struggling with his attackers; three bloodstained gloves; (the implication was that one person would not need three gloves, whereas four people likely would); blonde wig hairs found on a hairbrush (MacDonald said the candle was held by a blond woman in a floppy hat) and numerous unidentified fibers and hairs near the bodies of Kimberly, Kristen and Colette that did not match MacDonald’s or anything in the home. In all, Bost and Potter describe in detail 21 items of physical evidence never presented in MacDonald’s defense that clearly point to the presence of others. Among them: a bloody syringe and an unidentified piece of skin under Colette’s fingernail that was extensively tested and subsequently disappeared when it did not match MacDonald’s.
Potter and Bost document new witnesses, including neighbors in the building where the MacDonalds lived who remember sights and sounds on the night of the murder but were never interviewed by the Army. They also review the testimony of witnesses interviewed earlier — most notably drug abuser Helena Stoeckley, who on at least six occasions revealed details of the murders that only someone involved could have known, such as the S shape poked into Kristen’s chest with an ice pick. Stoeckley, who died in the early 1980s, said the S stood for “Satan.” Despite such confessions and a lack of alibi, Stoeckley and two of her companions, who fit descriptions provided by MacDonald, were never brought in for questioning.
“The army said the crime scene was well protected. It was not,” say the authors. “They said it was competently searched. It was not. They said they could prove the scene was staged by MacDonald. They did not. They said neighbors saw and heard nothing that night. Not true. The army and the government said nothing was found to support the presence of intruders at the scene. That was false. And, now that we know about the hair in Colette’s hand, the bloody syringe, the multiple bloody gloves, the piece of skin, the wig hair, and the black wool fibers, this was the cruelest lie of all.”
After looking at the case, how it was handled, as well as the suppressed evidence, Alan Dershowitz, too, was convinced that the government suppressed critical amounts of evidence that would have proven MacDonald’s innocence. He discussed the government’s cover up in his book America on Trial. Judge Andrew Napolitano (yes, Judge Andrew Napolitano at Fox News) thinks the government framed MacDonald as well and wrote about the government’s blatant misconduct in his book Lies the Government Told You.
MacDonald and his lawyers had the chance to appeal his conviction on March 23 of this year, and they may get a new trial because of this previously suppressed evidence. I hope he gets it, primarily because from where I sit, this is one of the most egregious examples of government abuse that I have ever seen (I would expect nothing less from China) and partly because I’d like to see McGinniss’s book blow up in his face.
Now, if Joe McGinniss truly was the “well regarded” and “highly respectful” investigative journalist his publishing house said he is, why he didn’t actually do the legwork MacDonald’s defense team paid him to do and investigate and report MacDonald’s story? The answer is obvious: a book about a handsome Army doctor who turned psychopathic and drug crazed and viciously murdered his beautiful – and pregnant – wife and two young daughters is far more compelling and sells far more books than a book about prosecutorial misconduct, as evidenced by the fact that many people have heard of Fatal Vision but few have heard of Fatal Justice.
All this makes it even more disturbing that McGinniss has now targeted Sarah Palin for the same kind of treatment he gave Jeffrey MacDonald. Even though Sarah Palin is in a position where she can defend herself against McGinniss’s lies, whereas MacDonald could not, there are still a lot of people in this country who hate her and her family so much that they will believe anything negative about her, no matter how untrue.