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69 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Looking at the murky world of journalistic ethics.
In 1970, a respected army physician named Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald claimed that four strangers broke into his home in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and killed his wife and two daughters. Although an army tribunal tried Dr. MacDonald and cleared him, years later the case was reopened. This time, MacDonald was convicted and sent to prison. Janet Malcolm does not retry the...
Published on June 30, 2003 by E. Bukowsky

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25 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars He said, she said
Malcolm covers an intriguing topic: the nature of betrayal and disappointment within the relationship between a journalist and her subject. As anyone who has been interviewed by a journalist knows, a subject's point of view is NOT the story. And similarly, the story should NOT be purely the journalist's perspective, either. She desscribes the relationship as a...
Published on April 20, 1999 by mcosgrove@wsh.state.va.us


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69 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Looking at the murky world of journalistic ethics., June 30, 2003
This review is from: The Journalist and the Murderer (Paperback)
In 1970, a respected army physician named Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald claimed that four strangers broke into his home in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and killed his wife and two daughters. Although an army tribunal tried Dr. MacDonald and cleared him, years later the case was reopened. This time, MacDonald was convicted and sent to prison. Janet Malcolm does not retry the MacDonald case in her book, "The Journalist and the Murderer." Rather, she examines the issues behind a lawsuit that MacDonald brought in 1984 against his supposed friend, Joe McGinnis, author of "Fatal Vision." Joe McGinniss posed as an ally of Jeffrey MacDonald for years. McGinnis lived with MacDonald for a while and even joined his defense team. McGinniss sent MacDonald sympathetic letters in support of his cause. In these letters, he frequently expressed his support for MacDonald.

It was only after "Fatal Vision" was published that MacDonald discovered the truth. McGinniss did not believe in MacDonald's innocence; on the contrary, he portrays MacDonald as a psychopathic murderer. The author posed as a friend for the sole purpose of keeping MacDonald in the dark so that McGinniss would continue to have access to his subject. "Fatal Vision" became a huge bestseller and eventually became a miniseries. Malcolm's book, written in 1990, takes on added significance in 2003, when the ethics of journalists are under fire. Some have been accused of plagiarizing and fabricating stories. The public is beginning to recongnize that reporters are fallible and suffer from the same pressures, ambitions, and psychological disorders as other ordinary mortals.

This is not merely a condemnation of McGinniss's behavior towards MacDonald. Malcolm's premise is that the journalist's relationship to his subject is, in its very essence, a perilous one. The gullible subject babbles away to his "sympathetic" listener, revealing more of himself than he realizes. When all is said and done, only the journalist and his editors have control over the final product. They are sometimes tempted to distort the facts to make the piece more interesting. Malcolm asserts that certain journalists are con men who prey on people's loneliness, credibility, and narcissism to get a good story. Journalists have their own agendas and the "truth," which is elusive at best, is not always their top priority. Malcolm's book is a warning not to believe everything that is printed in a newspaper or a magazine, since each story is only one version of reality.
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35 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ethics of blabbermouths, June 2, 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: The Journalist and the Murderer (Paperback)
In The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm examines the transactional relationship between a journalist and her subject, especially the dynamic of what happens during an interview. (Why do so many people repeatedly and voluntarily blabber stupidly to the media? Why is it so difficult to refuse a microphone?) And what moral obligation does a journalist have to her subject?
Malcolm answers these questions (as much as she's able to) in the context of a murder trail that journalist Joe McGinniss wrote about, after being given unlimited access to accused murderer Jeffrey MacDonald and his defense team. McGinniss, originally sympathetic to MacDonald, comes to believe that he is guilty of the murder (the jury agreed), but does not reveal his change of heart to MacDonald, in order to maintain access to him. Once McGinniss's book, Fatal Vision, is published, MacDonald is horrified by the portrait presented to him and sues McGinniss for fraud.
Malcolm raises issues that I, a constant reader of journalism, had never considered. Her book gave me insight into what a writer must do to get the story. She's made me a less naïve reader. Those long articles in The New Yorker will never seem the same.
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26 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How far should they go?, May 29, 2007
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This review is from: The Journalist and the Murderer (Paperback)
Joe McGinniss put himself on the map writing the classic 1969 book, THE SELLING OF A PRESIDENT. That book detailed how Richard Nixon was sold to the public like any other consumer product. It's worth reading if you can find a copy. The Nixon book was such a hit and McGinniss was so young he couldn't find material good enough to follow it up and his next few books were mediocre.

Determined to find another worthy subject, he tackled the case of Dr. Jeffrey McDonald, a man accused of killing his wife and children. That story became the bestselling FATAL VISION and this book, THE JOURNALIST AND THE MURDERER, chronicles the techniques that McGinniss used to get close to McDonald, and how he pretended to support McDonald through the years of legal proceedings although he always thought him to be guilty and wanted a guilty verdict for a better book. McGinniss' technique led to unfettered access to legal files, evidence, but most importantly access to McDonald. They'd drink together, strategize together and were pals during the experience.

The central question is how far can a journalist go to get the story? Although a jury found McDonald guilty of murder, a later jury found in favor of McDonald in his suit against McGuinniss because they felt that his techniques were so underhanded and self-serving that even a murderer deserved better. The book shows the divide between the win-at-any-cost media and the public that grows weary of the techniques used against people to create news. Does the public have the right to know enough that journalists can lie to subjects to bring the story to press?

This short book makes you question a number of journalistic techniques and it doesn't hurt either that McDonald has strong supporters and could possibly be innocent of the murders, at least in the context of this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Publish or Peril?, October 11, 2013
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This review is from: The Journalist and the Murderer (Paperback)
Malcolm is at her best when she gets under the surface of her subject, and she her writing, insight and perceptions are brilliant in this particular arena. She brings light to often neglected issues of honesty, intent and outcome in reporting.

Joe McGinniss fell into that murky area of journalism while deceiving Jeffrey McDonald because he needed to quarantee a financial success for his publisher and himself. This ruse may have cost him his integrity and literary career. I purchased his book immediately after reading Malcolm's criticism, needing to see the book myself before reaching a final conclusion.This is not an easy subject, nor is McDonald a sympathetic character. Janet Malcolm exposes the amazing and elaborate deception used by McGinniss to trap and crucify his subject. Her investigation into this relationship is so brilliant that you're hooked from the beginning!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, October 8, 2012
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This review is from: The Journalist and the Murderer (Paperback)
Author took time to investigate thoroughly. Well thought out story line. Much work went into presentation. True crime at its best.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Candid and Well-written, November 13, 2011
By 
J. Doom (Asheville, NC United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Journalist and the Murderer (Paperback)
I first heard of Janet Malcolm after reading an excellent interview of hers in the Paris Review. In that interview she references her becoming an outcast in the journalism/writer community after being sued by one of the subject of this book, Joe McGinniss. This book, which I guess is a widely read book in journalism schools gives a riveting and honest account of her covering the slander trial of the murderer, Jeffrey MacDonald against McGinniss. Malcolm is extremely self aware, and seems to be able to make some real observations about the relationship of a journalist to their subject while not coming across as judgmental or beyond fault as well. But most importantly, she makes the prescient observations in such a stunningly well written manner. This is an excellent little book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quick Read, Fascinating Look at Truth and Integrity in Journalism, July 25, 2013
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The Journalist and the Murderer is really a must-read for aspiring journalists, and writers, and anyone interested in what goes into postmodern character development. Malcom - with whom I disagree, as a human - asserts that there is a cynical and manipulative relationship that governs all interactions between interviewer and interviewed, and to ignore this is to either be disingenuous or naive. The story follows how she came to conclude that journalist and author Joe MacGuinness was a jerk, and the subject of a book of his, a convicted mass murderer, was innocent.

The book makes for compelling reading. It's well written. It examines terrifically interesting topics from an interesting perspective. Paradoxically, it espouses and falls victim to many of the very biases and assertions that Malcom herself describes as bad, or in poor taste, and, ultimately, one is left with the sense that she doesn't like herself very much.
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13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, September 27, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Journalist and the Murderer (Paperback)
I am a journalism major, and did read this for a journalism class. Setting all that aside, I did find it to be a very interesting, and would recommend it to anyone who has ever had an interest in journalism or the interview process. Ms. Malcolm does take a neutral stance in the MacDonald's murder conviction, which is disconcerning given the gruesomeness of the crime and its role in the book. But that is really minor, because the work succeeds as a whole.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Finally got around to reading this, April 22, 2014
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after hearing about it for years, and was not disappointed at all. I can see why it's so famous, as it not only covers an intriguing court case, but it's very well written and engaging on the complexity of the interviewer/interviewee relationship. Now deciding which of Janet Malcolms books to read next.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Journalistic Novel, July 10, 2014
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Written in the style of a journalist, it's an interesting "meta" journalistic style of novel. She has a refreshing writing style that is precise and thoughtful , every word exactly where it should be. And, did I mention that her subject matter is fascinating too?
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The Journalist and the Murderer
The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm (Paperback - October 31, 1990)
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