The Journalist and the Murderer

The Journalist and the Murderer

Janet Malcolm / Oct 17, 2019

The Journalist and the Murderer In two previous books Janet Malcolm explored the hidden sides of respectively institutional psychoanalysis and Freudian biography In this book she examines the psychopathology of journalism Using

  • Title: The Journalist and the Murderer
  • Author: Janet Malcolm
  • ISBN: 9780679731832
  • Page: 406
  • Format: Paperback
  • In two previous books, Janet Malcolm explored the hidden sides of, respectively, institutional psychoanalysis and Freudian biography In this book, she examines the psychopathology of journalism Using a strange and unprecedented lawsuit as her larger than life example the lawsuit of Jeffrey MacDonald, a convicted murderer, against Joe McGinniss, the author of Fatal VisIn two previous books, Janet Malcolm explored the hidden sides of, respectively, institutional psychoanalysis and Freudian biography In this book, she examines the psychopathology of journalism Using a strange and unprecedented lawsuit as her larger than life example the lawsuit of Jeffrey MacDonald, a convicted murderer, against Joe McGinniss, the author of Fatal Vision, a book about the crime she delves into the always uneasy, sometimes tragic relationship that exists between journalist and subject In Malcolm s view, neither journalist nor subject can avoid the moral impasse that is built into the journalistic situation When the text first appeared, as a two part article in The New Yorker, its thesis seemed so radical and its irony so pitiless that journalists across the country reacted as if stung.Her book is a work of journalism as well as an essay on journalism it at once exemplifies and dissects its subject In her interviews with the leading and subsidiary characters in the MacDonald McGinniss case the principals, their lawyers, the members of the jury, and the various persons who testified as expert witnesses at the trial Malcolm is always aware of herself as a player in a game that, as she points out, she cannot lose The journalist subject encounter has always troubled journalists, but never before has it been looked at so unflinchingly and so ruefully Hovering over the narrative and always on the edge of the reader s consciousness is the MacDonald murder case itself, which imparts to the book an atmosphere of anxiety and uncanniness The Journalist and the Murderer derives from and reflects many of the dominant intellectual concerns of our time, and it will have a particular appeal for those who cherish the odd, the off center, and the unsolved.

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      406 Janet Malcolm
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      Posted by:Janet Malcolm
      Published :2019-07-24T08:58:26+00:00

    About "Janet Malcolm"

      • Janet Malcolm

        Janet Malcolm is a journalist, biographer, collagist, and staff writer at The New Yorker She is the author of In the Freud Archives and The Crime of Sheila McGough, as well as biographies of Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Plath, and Anton Chekhov.The Modern Library chose her controversial book The Journalist and the Murderer with its infamous first line as one of the 100 best non fiction works of the 20th century.Her most recent book is Forty one False Starts.


    569 Comments

    1. Well, I read this. And as I initially suspected I would, I hated it. I had just finished Fatal Vision, which includes a rebuttal to this very book - and like any good journalism student, I knew I had to read it to get the other side of the story.I don't take Malcolm's central argument as offensive. It's true that journalists work on very shaky moral ground, all the time. And some of her reporting was very good. Reading McGinniss's letters to MacDonald really surprised me - he seemingly went out [...]


    2. In 1979, Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted of the 1970 murders of his pregnant wife and two daughters, ages 5 and 2. He had asked journalist Joe McGinniss to write a book about the trial, and McGinniss was not only a close observer, but even became a member of the defense team. MacDonald and McGinniss became friends. But the publication of McGinniss' book Fatal Vision in 1983 revealed McGinniss' belief, hidden until then, that MacDonald was a lying sociopath, guilty of the murders. Furious and [...]


    3. If you were a journalist interviewing an alleged murderer for your story (that you've already spent many years working on), would you say things like "I believe you are innocent" (even though you didn't really believe so) in order to get him to continue talking to you? That is what Joe McGinnis did, and now the murderer is suing him. But McGinnis didn't just tell one lie, he became really good friends with his subject, even becoming part of the defense team during the trial, and continued to sen [...]


    4. Jeff was accused of killing his wife and 2 children,after 8 long years he was convicted. Joe McGinniss wrote "Fatal Vision" about that murder and trial. Jeff then sued McGinniss for libel, a hung jury favored the murderer over the journalist, 5 to 1. This book is about the deception journalists practice on people to get "the juicy story." The book takes a broad view of deception so the story has ideas that extend to other types of relationships. The author has a keen wit and knows how to write s [...]


    5. I wish I had the book with me now to quote the first line. It's something like, Any journalist who's not too cocky or ignorant knows that what he does is morally indefensible. The story -- a long essay with a lively plot and lots of reflection -- follows a lawsuit in which a convicted murderer sues a journalist over misrepresentation after allowing the journalist complete access to his defense team in his criminal trial. The case becomes a question of the legal right and more importantly the eth [...]


    6. As you can see from previous reviews, the author makes a number of bizarre statements in this book. I do not complain that she stays resolutely neutral-leaning-toward-innocent on Jeffrey MacDonald's guilt, because this book isn't supposed to be about MacDonald's guilt, it's supposed to be about Joe McGuinness's guilt. However MacDonald's guilt is revisited over and over. My biggest complaint is that the lawsuit is disposed of relatively quickly and then the book is simply a long replaying of int [...]


    7. I'm not sure why it took me this long to finally read this classic, brief book on the ethics of the journalist-subject relationship. This was a book mentioned often by my professors when I was in journalism school, but only now (through the course of research for a PhD program I'm in) did I get a chance to read it. Malcolm touches on an issue that always struck me, too, while I worked as a reporter. Why do people speak to reporters, especially when the resulting story may be less than flattering [...]


    8. This is a lazy excuse for a book. It purports to explore the questions of the responsibility of the writer to the subject, truthfulness, libel, and freedom of the press. It consists of a scattered set of summaries of the author's interviews with the lawyers and principles in a court case in which a convicted murderer successfully sued the author of his true crime story 'for fraud and breach of contract - as an attempt "to set a new precedent whereby a reporter or author would be legally obligate [...]


    9. This is a quick read that raised valid concerns regarding the morality of journalism. I think I have marked too many essays because all I kept thinking was, 'this is an interesting perspective let down by too many direct quotations, which left the work lacking cohesion'. Then the afterword declared that she has to 'translate' these quotes from 'recorderese' to make them more easily digestible for the reader. And she refused to read all of the case files because, ostensibly, there is no such thin [...]


    10. Fascinating examination of the dynamic between crime reporters/authors and their subjects, as well as the resulting ethical questions."Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance, or loneliness" (p. 3) Whoa. Strong words that set the tone for a controversial debate, centered on one incendiary case.


    11. This story started as a two-part piece for The New Yorker. Years ago I read another long New Yorker article by Malcolm, about Sylvia Plath, and was drawn to this plain white cover by virtue of seeing Malcolm's name on the cover. Jeff MacDonald was accused (and later convicted) of murdering his wife and two young daughters. As a way to raise money for his legal costs and to attempt to tell "the true story," he forges an arrangement with seasoned writer Joe McGinniss, in exchange for full access a [...]


    12. I had to reread this after Errol Morris quoted from it so heavily in his book A Wilderness of Error, and since he criticized Malcolm for her not wanting to read all the trial transcripts and reams and reams of evidence and correspondence sent to her by Jeffrey MacDonald trying to convince her of his innocence. But her book was not concerned with his guilt or innocence. That book had already been written. She was focusing on the role of the journalist and his ethical/moral duty, if any, to his su [...]


    13. I'd always heard about the New Yorker article that delved into the ethics of what author Joe McGinniss supposedly did to the subject of his famous True Crime book, Fatal Vision. Dr Jeffrey MacDonald, a convicted multiple murderer, accused McGinniss of lying and otherwise falsely representing himself and his intentions when he imbedded himself in the MacDonald defense. MacDonald successfully brought a lawsuit that was settled out of court.Very well written with arguments on both sides. For me, I [...]


    14. This book is next-level good. It feels like a satire of In Cold Blood with psychoanalytic leanings, accompanied by Janet Malcolm's brutal character analyses and stabbing insights.


    15. Jeffrey MacDonald, convicted of murdering his wife and kids and who invented a Manson Murders cover fiction, sues Joe McGinnis who wrote his story in Fatal Vision. (One should watch the movie or read Fatal Vision first.) Partial premise: If Freedom of the Press means Freedom to Lie, perhaps its not something worth fighting for. Basically, the author cozies up to his subject with sympathy and beer buddy behavior all the while fixing to do him in. It's about journalism ethics, freedom of the press [...]


    16. I love this book. The central argument really challenged me. I'm a journalist who spends a long time with subjects. You do, over the course of a year, develop a different kind of relationship than you would in a breaking news situation. Subjects eventually forget that you're writing down everything they say. I've never gone so far as McInnis to fake a friendship, all the while cultivating a fanning portrait, but I find Malcom's central challenge one worth remembering as I do this work. We do use [...]


    17. Like a hammer on my head, this book. Glad I read it. Now I understand the unease I felt when I was written about, and the startled reactions of my subjects after they read what I wrote about them. Journalism is a double-edged sword, and the moral dilemma of the obligation to tell the truth versus the factuality of the truth as seen by the journalist and the means by which it was recorded (or not) and the ways it can be interpreted by the audience is a game you have to know how to dance. A misste [...]


    18. Short, sharp, shock to the system especially for a journalist like me whose stock in trade are in-depth interviews and books. Malcolm is very adept at explaining the curious balance between journalist/author and subject. Her writing style is fascinating and I will seek out more of her books now.


    19. [Trigger Warnings for murder and swearing]Oh God. This book.Here's a summary, through which my tone will convey what I thought about this shindig: As noted later by numerous psychologists, army doctor Macdonald has diagnosable narcissistic and antisocial tendencies. His masculinity is as fragile as a wedding topper. His wife Collette goes back to school, and he feels threatened about it. Macdonald takes some meth, murders pregnant Collette and their two younger daughters, and blames it on some h [...]


    20. Back in my younger and more vulnerable years, I did high school journalism and one of the big concerns was how to report on minors, considering at least 3/4 of the people in the school were under the age of 18. There's a lot of legal precedent to treat high school journalists with the same privileges as working journalists, but at the same time there is a lot of push back from principals who have concerns about parents calling, or even worse, suing. When we reported we always had to be super awa [...]


    21. As a journalist I've often experienced the condition Janet Malcolm dissects so masterfully here--the way my job--and just the act of writing 'nonfiction' itself--requires me to don a persona with interview subjects that will give me the best chance of getting the information I need for a story, or to shape the events I report on into a narrative that will give satisfaction to my readers. Malcolm isn't talking about breaches of journalistic ethics here, but rather, she examines the simple, unavoi [...]


    22. I was one of the millions of listeners recently captivated by Serial, the true crime podcast phenomenon. Thursdays just aren't the same without Sarah Koenig's dogged, self-conscious probing of the unconvincing convict Adnan Syed - I even miss the "Mail Kimp?" jokes. In the course of reading everything I could about the case, this book The Journalist and The Murderer kept popping up - so naturally I had to see what all the fuss was about.In 1970 Dr Jeffrey MacDonald's wife and kids were brutally [...]


    23. Update: Fascinating book! I was expecting a bit more of her conversations with McGinnis and would have been interested in whether or not her own view of MacDonald's guilt or innocence had changed in the course of the project. It struck me as an oddly chilly book, though completely engrossing.Apparently Joe McGinnis has written a rebuttal at the end of his new edition of Fatal Vision:query.nytimes/gst/fullpage~~~I don't know what to think about this book. It's certainly holding my attention, but [...]


    24. Journalists hated this book, and by extension Malcolm, sufficiently that she found few allies in the fourth estate during her own libel trial. But it strikes me as an intelligent and philosophical take on the nature of the relationship between journalist and subject.One does not need to wholly buy into Malcolm's conclusions to recognize the conflicting agendas of journalist and source. Or to see that the journalist, to preserve access, often will mislead the subject about how much in conflict th [...]


    25. Late last year I made a crack at Fatal Vision, a behemoth of a book about the case against Jeff MacDonald for the brutal murder of his family. Author Joe McGinniss' case is so incredibly biased and poorly argued that I gave up a few hundred pages in. The Journalist and the Murderer explores the relationship (and subsequent civil suit) between McGinniss and MacDonald as a tool to discuss the relationship of journalist and subject. McGinniss spent years feigning deep friendship with MacDonald whil [...]


    26. Being hooked on the Serial Podcast, I was intrigued when Ann and Michael discussed this volume on the BOTNS podcast. I knew most of the facts of the case, but I had forgotten the details surrounding Jeffrey MacDonald's conviction for murdering his pregnant wife and their two daughters. Author Joe McGiniss was embedded with MacDonald and the defense during his second trial and ultimately wrote a novel Fatal Vision, which clearly agreed MacDonald was the killer. A lawsuit ensued for libel and Jane [...]


    27. (4.5) This was recommended to me after listening to Serial and I'm glad I checked it out. Goes into depth of the relationship between a journalist and their subject with the MacDonald vs. McGuiness case serving as a backdrop. I found the interviews with other journalists compelling, as well as Malcolm's inner monologue. The bottom line: we all craft narratives of people to help us understand them. Journalists are no different. They have a story to tell. The responsibility of the listener/reader [...]


    28. Delightfully written with multiple layers of irony (fortunately only subtly alluded to by the author; we were spared the sledgehammer many others would employ), this should be required reading not only as an incisive insight into the world of media and journalism, but its analysis into interpersonal relationships, psychology, and indeed our sense of self. Highly recommended.


    29. What starts out as a bit of a dubious thesis regarding the inherent immorality of journalists actually makes for a very persuasive (and brilliantly written) argument of the slippery ethics that journalism constantly finds itself in. The book also doubles as a tight, engrossing narrative of the MacDonald v. McGinniss trial and the issues surrounding the case.


    30. Janet Malcolm's book about the MacDonald murders is an examination of the ethical issues of journalists lying to subjects to get them to share information they otherwise would not want the journalist to know. She sees the conduct of Joe McGinniss as he was writing his book about the case, Fatal Vision, as unethical.2011 No 186


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