Joe McGinniss, author of Fatal Vision, dies at 71

(Reuters) – Journalist Joe McGinniss, an author who got up close to his subjects for revealing books such as The Selling of the President and Fatal Vision, died on Monday at age 71, his friend and attorney said.

Joe McGinniss
Joe McGinniss

McGinniss died of complications from prostate cancer at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Massachusetts, lawyer Dennis Holahan said in an email. The author had announced last year that he was in the advanced stage of the disease.

His 1983 book Fatal Vision became a classic of the true crime genre and was based on unlimited access he gained to former Green Beret Jeffrey MacDonald and his attorneys during MacDonald’s 1979 murder trial in the deaths of his pregnant wife and two young daughters in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

MacDonald, who at the time of the 1970 killings was an Army doctor, was found guilty and is serving three life sentences.

He has maintained the murders were committed by drug-crazed intruders. McGinniss had begun by expressing support for MacDonald but ended by concluding in his book that he was guilty of killing his family.

“I kept trying to find any reason I could to believe that he was not guilty,” McGinniss testified at a 2012 court hearing where MacDonald sought to be granted a new trial.

New Yorker magazine writer Janet Malcolm, in a 1989 article, accused McGinnis of displaying the underside of journalism by deceiving MacDonald with a show of support and then betraying his confidence, an argument McGinnis vehemently denied.

Born in New York, he attended college in Massachusetts and early on became a sports reporter before winning a job as a columnist with the Philadelphia Inquirer.

He gained national attention with the 1969 publication of The Selling of the President.

The bestseller gave a behind-the-scenes account of how advertising and media professionals packaged Republican presidential nominee Richard Nixon in his successful 1968 campaign for the White House.

One of the main subjects of Nixon’s team portrayed in the book was television producer-turned-media-strategist Roger Ailes, who is now chairman of Fox News Channel.

McGinniss is also the author of the 2011 book The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin, an unflattering portrait of the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee. For the book, he took up residence next to Palin’s home in Wasilla, Alaska.

The author had in 1980 published a book about Alaska, titled Going to Extremes, that explored the vestiges of the state’s frontier culture and gave personal descriptions of everyone from bush pilots to teachers.

He wrote a dozen books in all, including his 1972 novel The Dream Team.

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