Joe McGinniss

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This article is about the American writer born in 1942. For the novelist born in 1970, see Joe McGinniss Jr..
Joe McGinniss
Joe McGinniss 1969.JPG
McGinniss in 1969
Born (1942-12-09)December 9, 1942
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died March 10, 2014(2014-03-10) (aged 71)
Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.
Occupation Journalist, author
Language English
Citizenship United States
Alma mater College of the Holy Cross
Period 1964-2014
Genre Nonfiction
and novels
Subject Richard Nixon
Jeffrey MacDonald
Sarah Palin
Notable works The Selling of the President 1968
Fatal Vision
Cruel Doubt
Blind Faith
Partner Nancy Doherty
Children Joseph McGinniss, Jr., James McGinniss, Christine Marque, Suzanne Boyer, Matthew McGinniss

Joseph McGinniss, Sr. (December 9, 1942 – March 10, 2014), known as Joe McGinniss, was an American non-fiction writer and novelist. He first came to prominence with the best-selling The Selling of the President 1968 which described the marketing of then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon, and from that time until his death in March 2014 authored eleven works. His last book was The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin, an account of Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska who was the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee.


McGinniss graduated in 1964 from the Roman Catholic-affiliated College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. He became a general assignment reporter at the Worcester Telegram but left within a year to become a sportswriter for The Philadelphia Bulletin. He then moved to The Philadelphia Inquirer as a general interest columnist. In 1979 he became a writer-in-residence at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.

The Selling of the President[edit]

McGinniss became an overnight success when his first book, The Selling of the President 1968, landed on The New York Times bestseller list when he was twenty-six years old, making him the youngest living writer with that achievement. The book described the marketing of Richard Nixon during the 1968 presidential campaign. McGinniss stumbled across his topic while taking a train to New York. A fellow commuter had just landed the Hubert Humphrey account and was boasting that "in six weeks we’ll have him looking better than Abraham Lincoln." McGinniss tried to get access to Humphrey’s campaign first, but they turned him down. So he called up Nixon’s, and they said yes."[1]

The book was well received by both critics and the public and has been recognized as a "classic of campaign reporting that first introduced many readers to the stage-managed world of political theater."[1] It "spent more than six months on best-sellers lists, and McGinniss sold a lot of those books through television, appearing on the titular shows of Merv Griffin, David Frost, and Dick Cavett, among others."[1] Conservative writer William F. Buckley, Jr., "assumed McGinniss had relied on 'an elaborate deception which has brought joy and hope to the Nixon-haters.' But even Buckley liked the book."[1]

After the success of his book in 1968, McGinniss left the Inquirer to write books full-time. He next wrote a novel, The Dream Team. It was followed by Heroes and Going to Extremes, a nonfiction account of his year exploring Alaska.

True crime[edit]

In the 1980s came the McGinniss trilogy of true crime books, Fatal Vision, Blind Faith and Cruel Doubt. All three books were made into television miniseries. His 1983 account of the Jeffrey MacDonald murder case, Fatal Vision, was a best-seller. MacDonald sued McGinniss in 1984, alleging that McGinniss pretended to believe MacDonald innocent after he had already come to the conclusion that MacDonald was guilty, in order to continue MacDonald's cooperation with him. After a six-week civil trial that resulted in a hung jury, his publisher's insurance company chose to settle out of court with MacDonald for $325,000. There was a later book about the MacDonald case by Jerry Allen Potter and Fred Bost called Fatal Justice that was a counterattack to Fatal Vision. Potter and Bost professed that MacDonald was innocent and that McGinniss's book was wildly inaccurate. They pointed to various parts of the book they claimed were untrue. For example, McGinniss proposed a theory that MacDonald killed his wife and children during a psychotic episode brought on by his use of diet pills. At the trial, McGinniss was forced to admit under oath that he had no hard evidence to support this theory and that it may not have happened at all.[2]

Judge Ross split the money between Mildred Kassab and Dorothy MacDonald, the MacDonald lawyers, with Jeffrey MacDonald being allowed to keep the rest. Neither side filed an appeal.[2] Judge Ross likened McGinniss's conduct to that of "a thief in the night" and then corrected himself, saying, "I guess a thief in the night wouldn't see you. He is more of a con man than he is a thief."[2] In her book The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm used the McGinniss-MacDonald trial to explore the problematic relationship between journalists and their subjects.

The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin[edit]

McGinniss returned to the subject of Alaska in 2008 to research an article for Conde Nast's business magazine Portfolio about then Governor Palin's promotion of a $26 billion plan to construct a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope of Alaska to a pipeline hub in Canada.[3][4] In 2009, McGinniss signed a contract to write an unauthorized biography about Palin and began research which took him to Alaska that fall and again in the spring of 2010. In late May he rented a house next door to Palin's home on Lake Lucille in Wasilla.[5][6] On her Facebook page, Palin warned him to stay away from her children and mused: "Wonder what kind of material he'll gather while overlooking Piper's bedroom, my little garden, and the family's swimming hole?"[6] causing a brief media frenzy and, according to The Washington Post, "fury from Palin fans".[7][8] McGinniss responded that there was no view of anyone's bedroom from the rental house and suggested that Palin should have simply come over with a plate of cookies and had a civil discussion with him.[8]

McGinniss left Alaska in September 2010 to write his book on the Palin phenomenon. Broadway Books, a division of Random House, published The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin on September 20, 2011.[9][10] According to advance reviews, the book alleges premarital sex and drug use.[11][12] The book is reportedly heavy on innuendo, including conjecture that Sarah Palin is not the biological mother of her son, Trig Palin.[13] Early reviews by The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times criticized The Rogue for its use of unnamed sources and for having an obvious anti-Palin agenda.[13][14]

On September 26, 2011, ABC News reported that Palin's attorney John Tiemessen had written a letter to the book's author and publisher saying that Palin might sue them "for knowingly publishing false statements."[15]

Other works[edit]

The Last Brother: The Rise and Fall of Teddy Kennedy was published in 1993. The highly speculative volume was widely panned; The New York Times called it "half-baked" and "awful".[16]

In 1995, McGinniss was awarded a media seat at the O.J. Simpson murder case, expecting to write a book about it, but after sitting through the protracted trial decided he couldn't; he returned the $1 million advance.[17] After Simpson was acquitted, Joe stated that the trial had been "a farce."

His next book, the critically acclaimed The Miracle of Castel di Sangro, followed the fortunes of an Italian soccer team from a tiny town during one dramatic season in the big leagues. The Big Horse was published in 2004. In his next book, Never Enough, McGinniss returned to his study of the dark side of the American family with a nonfiction account of the murder of investment banker Robert Kissel by his wife Nancy in Hong Kong.[18]


On January 24, 2013, he confirmed the diagnosis of terminal prostate cancer which had been revealed online in May 2012.[19] McGinniss died March 10, 2014, at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester from the disease at the age of 71.[20]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Fehrman, Craig (January 21, 2011). "When Roger Ailes was honest about what he does". 
  2. ^ a b c Fatal justice authors Allen Potter & Fred Bost
  3. ^ McGinniss, Joe (March 17, 2009). "Pipe Dreams". Retrieved December 8, 2010. 
  4. ^ "Alaska governor signs natgas pipeline license bill". Reuters. August 29, 2008. Retrieved December 8, 2010. 
  5. ^ Devon, Jeanne (May 25, 2010). "Joe the Neighbor: Noted Palin Author Moves Next Door to the Palins". Huffington Post. 
  6. ^ a b Franke-Ruta, Garance (May 25, 2010). "Palin's new neighbor turns out to be a legendary journalist". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 8, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Sarah Palin takes on Joe McGinniss". May 26, 2010. Retrieved December 8, 2010. 
  8. ^ a b Weigel, David (May 28, 2010). "Joe McGinniss talks about why he moved in next to Sarah Palin". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 15, 2011. 
  9. ^ Dunham, Mike (September 5, 2010). "Palin neighbor author is moving back home". Anchorage Daily News. Retrieved December 8, 2010. 
  10. ^ McGinniss, Joe (2011). The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin. New York: Broadway. ISBN 0-307-71892-1. 
  11. ^ "New Palin Book’s 6 Juiciest Leaks". The Daily Beast. September 15, 2011. 
  12. ^ Giles Whittel (September 15, 2011). "Palin future clouded by sex, drugs claims". The Australian. 
  13. ^ a b Ulin, David L. (September 15, 2011). "Book Review: Sarah Palin via Joe McGinniss: cocaine, infidelity and anonymity". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 15, 2011.  "There's a not-so-subtle agenda underpinning Joe McGinniss' The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin, although it's never made explicit until late in the book. "The time has come to strike the tent," McGinniss begins the closing chapter. "[N]o matter how much my book sales might benefit from a Palin presidential campaign in 2012, I sincerely hope that the whole extravaganza, which has been unblushingly underwritten by a mainstream media willing to gamble the nation's future in exchange for the cheap thrill of watching a clown in high heels on a flying trapeze, is nearing the end of its run."" ... "I have no doubt that McGinniss' view of Palin is accurate: that she is narcissistic, undisciplined and unqualified for public life. Still, I want more than innuendo to make the point."
  14. ^ Maslin, Janet (September 14, 2011). "Books: Sarah Palin Could See This Guy From Her House". New York Times. Retrieved September 16, 2011.  "Although most of The Rogue is dated, petty and easily available to anyone with Internet access, Mr. McGinniss used his time in Alaska to chase caustic, unsubstantiated gossip about the Palins, often from unnamed sources like “one resident” and “a friend.”"
  15. ^ Sarah Palin Threatens to Sue ‘Rogue’ Book Publisher, ABC News, September 26, 2011
  16. ^ Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (July 29, 1993). "Books of The Times; The Minds of Kennedys as Imagined by McGinniss". The New York Times. 
  17. ^ New Yorker Magazine - March 11, 2014 Postscript: Joe McGinniss (1942-2014) By Jeffrey Toobin
  18. ^ New York Times Book Review Here Comes the Bride - by Bob Shacochis -published: December 16, 2007
  19. ^ Joe McGinniss diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer,; accessed March 11, 2014.
  20. ^ Joe McGinniss, Fatal Vision author, dies at age 71 at; published March 10, 2014; retrieved March 10, 2014

External links[edit]