The Selling of the President
, one of the most seminal campaign books ever written, he managed to inject himself as a constant shadow presence in the Nixon camp and wrote the model for fly-on-the-wall journalism as well as the basic manual for all future media consultants. His account in Fatal Vision
of Jeffrey McDonald’s murder of his pregnant wife and two children is a classic in crime reporting and, as well, one of the stranger tales of an author’s tangled relationship with and dogged pursuit of his subject.
McGinniss's hyper-involvement with his stories has bedeviled his subjects, publishers, and critics (Janet Malcolm’s famous study of journalism, The Journalist and the Murder
—“Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible…"—is based on McGinniss). It is now bedeviling Sarah Palin and the right wing.
Before almost any other journalist (save for Andrew Sullivan), McGinniss got on to the weird and aberrant nature of the Palin phenomenon. He has been tracking it—and her—in his obsessive fashion nearly since John McCain announced her nomination.
Now McGinniss has moved into the house next door
to the Palins' in Alaska. He overlooks “my children’s play area” and “Piper’s bedroom," Palin complains in one of her Facebook posts
about McGinniss. She goes on at considerable length and in stuck-pig fashion to try to mock and demonize and shake McGinniss. She has recruited other right-wing media personalities, including Glenn Beck
, to help her in her campaign to run McGinniss out of town. Beck, indeed, has called McGinniss a stalker (which, in shoe-leather journalism fashion, he surely is).
(Palin's home, AP Photo)
The campaign against McGinniss is a pretty stunning abuse of the kind of media access and power that Palin & Co. possess—it’s crowd incitement. Palin, one of the leading political figures in the country, is trying to impede a journalist’s obvious right to cover her by using well-honed and scarily effective right-wing tactics: declaring a jihad on an adversary and having masses of followers deliver threatening hate mail (or hate spam) and other invective of vast and malevolent proportions.
McGinniss has sent friends and contacts an email saying that his standard email account had been overwhelmed and he can no longer use it.
The Palin campaign is certainly tough for McGinniss and a display of the crude power and bullying that Palin seems to have no second thoughts about using to further her interests.
But truly I wouldn’t feel too worried about Joe. Not a lot of chance he’s going to be scared off. He’s Br'er Rabbit. And Sarah’s gotten herself in the tar pit.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
Joe McGinniss is a particular sort of journalist unfortunately not so in vogue anymore. His own obsessiveness and personal involvement invariably become part of the story. In his book about the 1968 presidential election,