The Journalist and the Murderer

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Overview

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 Vision, a book about the crime -- she delves into the always uneasy, sometimes tragic relationship that exists between journalist and subject. In ...
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Overview

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 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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a work that sparked controversy when it first appeared in the New Yorker, Malcolm suggests that journalist Joe McGinniss may have betrayed convicted murderer Jeffrey MacDonald in McGinniss's bestselling book Fatal Vision.
Library Journal
Every journalist is "a kind of confidence man . . . gaining . . . trust and betraying . . . without remorse,'' says Malcolm. This is an expanded and reworked version of Malcom's New Yorker essay on the "pscyhopathology'' of the journalist/subject relationship, sparked by Jeffrey MacDonald's libel suit against Fatal Vision author Joe McGinniss. Even nonjournalists will be fascinated by Malcolm's discussion of the still puzzling MacDonald case; McGinnis's rather two-faced missives to the imprisoned MacDonald; and Joseph Wambaugh's libel trial testimony about journalistic "untruths.'' In an afterword, Malcolm comments on the heated debate her essay invoked in the journalism community, and concludes that, like it or not, every journalist must, to some degree, tussle with this ethical dilemma. An elegantly written, thought-provoking, and sometimes outrageous essay that should be in every media collection.
-- Judy Quinn, Library Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679731832
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/1990
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Edition description: 1st Vintage Books Edition
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 334,910
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.45 (d)

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2012

    Anonymous

    I don't understand the need for this author to write this book to attack an author who simply stated the facts as they are. Jeffrey McDonald tried to dupe anyone he came in contact with that he was innocent. The jury found him guilty. I say enough is enough, let things be. Remember who the real victims are.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2013

    Another apologist for a sick killer. She missed the entire point

    Another apologist for a sick killer. She missed the entire point of the lawsuit, as well as the book. 

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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