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Joe McGinniss’ topics included Richard Nixon and Sarah Palin.

Chad Batka • New York Times,

Writer Joe McGinniss dug into politics, crime

  • Article by: EMMA G. FITZSIMMONS
  • New York Times
  • March 16, 2014 - 9:02 PM

Joe McGinniss, the author who reported on political campaigns and murder cases in the books “The Selling of the President” and “Fatal Vision,” died of cancer March 10. He was 71.

When McGinniss published “The Selling of the President,” his account of Richard Nixon’s television-centered 1968 campaign, he was only 26. The book, published in 1969, went behind the scenes with Nixon’s consultants and became a model for political reporting.

His 1983 book “Fatal Vision” focused on the murder trial of Jeffrey MacDonald, an Army doctor and a Green Beret accused of killing his pregnant wife and two daughters. McGin­niss lived with MacDonald’s defense team during the trial and eventually decided that the jury’s guilty verdict was correct.

More recently, McGin­niss made headlines in 2010 when, to do book research, he moved in next door to Sarah Palin and her family in Wasilla, Alaska. McGinniss said he was offended when conservative TV host Glenn Beck suggested that he was a peeping Tom who wanted to peer into her daughters’ bedrooms.

The book, “The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin,” included sensational personal details about the family, including the claim that Sarah Palin had taken drugs when she was young.

In 2011, McGinniss said that Palin had fulfilled the experiment in image-making he had seen during Nixon’s campaign more than 40 years before.

“It has all become entertainment,” McGinniss said. “In the 21st century, politics is just another branch of the entertainment industry.”

McGinniss wrote several other books, including one on the reality of life in Alaska, titled “Going to Extremes,” published in 1980.

He made a name for himself by diving deeply into each story, but he also received criticism for his techniques.

MacDonald sued McGinniss, saying that he had co­operated because he thought the book would portray him sympathetically. MacDonald got $325,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

Janet Malcolm, a New Yorker writer whose articles were published in “The Journalist and the Murderer,” argued that McGinniss morally compromised himself by pretending he thought MacDonald was innocent after he believed him to be guilty.

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