Sunday, May 01, 2011

Fatal Justice: Reinvestigating the MacDonald Murders (1997)

In the mid-'80s, almost immediately in the wake of Joe McGinniss's book Fatal Vision and the celebrated TV movie based on it, Jerry Allen Potter was approached by a retired FBI agent, Ted L. Gunderson, who claimed that the "slam-dunk" case was not all it appeared to be. Potter greeted this assertion with the skepticism that only someone who knows McGinniss's book could have, so damning is the portrait presented there of the so-called Green Beret murderer, Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, who was accused and eventually convicted of brutally slaughtering his wife and two young daughters with bludgeon and knife and then attempting to point the finger for the crime at nameless, faceless Manson-family-like hippies chanting "acid is groovy, kill the pigs." But Gunderson eventually lured Potter into looking harder at the case, and Potter in turn brought in co-author Fred Bost. The book that was published 10 years later based on their findings, Fatal Justice, is a fascinating companion piece to read with the McGinniss, practically inducing whiplash as it so thoroughly takes apart the case against MacDonald, along the way uncovering a good deal of prosecutorial and other misconduct that at the very least dwells in a gray area if it isn't outright malfeasance. The details are grinding and I'm not about to attempt to summarize them here; instead, I urge anyone under the spell of McGinniss's book to consider looking at this. McGinniss's role in the fiasco has been so grotesque that MacDonald was able to successfully sue him for damages in civil court, even as he remained (and remains) housed in federal prison. What concerns me at this moment—arguably off-point, I'll concede, but of more immediate concern—is that now Joe McGinniss has decided he's just the person to write a big book about Sarah Palin, and has moved to Alaska to do so. It's coming out later this year. McGinniss first launched his career as something of a New Journalist prodigy, writing about politics as a young man in 1968 with The Selling of the President, an interesting x-ray of the Nixon campaign for the presidency that year with a decided air of prescience about the way politics was going to be done in the U.S. post-television. But McGinniss hasn't acquitted himself well since—first the MacDonald debacle, and then, in the '90s, a book about the Kennedy family that found him the subject of charges of plagiarism. I'm not nearly as worried about Sarah Palin as I was before she resigned the Alaska governorship and set about proving in earnest for anyone willing to look that she's little more than a grifter preying on ignorant Medicare-leeching Tea Party Bible thumpers. But that doesn't mean I don't have a certain amount of dread about how McGinniss is capable of shooting himself in the foot in an all too likely attempt to crucify her with a calculated "edgy" book he hopes will make him some big bucks. With friends like this, who needs enemies? Fatal Justice, along with Janet Malcolm's The Journalist and the Murderer, make abundantly clear the lazy and arrogant levels on which McGinniss operates. Time for him to just go away now.

In case it's not at the library.

No comments:

Post a Comment