“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[…]
“He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. Like the credulous widow who wakes up one day to find the charming young man and all her savings gone, so the consenting subject of a piece of nonfiction learns—when the article or book appears—his hard lesson. Journalists justify their treachery in various ways according to their temperaments. The more pompous talk about freedom of speech and “the public’s right to know”; the least talented talk about Art; the seemliest murmur about earning a living.”
–New Yorker writer Janet Malcolm, in her 1990 essay (later expanded into the book The Journalist And The Murderer) about journalist Joe McGinniss’s coverage of the trial of Green Beret physician Jeffrey Macdonald and his subsequent writing of the bestselling book Fatal Vision.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
– The concluding lines of Robert Frost’s renowned poem “Mending Wall.” The last five words, in a somewhat altered form, were quoted by Sarah Palin this week when discussing the 14-foot wooden fence her husband Todd built after McGinniss, to further work on his upcoming book about her, moved next door to the Palin home.
“Get off, you’re trespassing. I am going to have to call the Wasilla police. Get off my property, now, I am going to put in the call.”
–Joe McGinniss, greeting brother journalists from ABC News arriving on his new doorstep with his best J.D. Salinger impression. Here, it is worth mentioning that McGinniss, when a 26-year-old writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, rocketed to number-one bestsellerdom in 1969 with his study of the role of advertising in the 1968 election of the thirty-seventh Chief Executive, The Selling Of The President. (And they thought Nixon was paranoid about the press.)
On Monday, Mr. McGinniss said, he was listening to Hank Williams [Sr? Jr? III? Inquiring Gannons want to know] on the back porch when Mr. Palin came over to ask whether Mr. McGinniss would be living in the house. Mr. McGinniss said he was, and then told him he was writing a book about Ms. Palin [tentatively titled Sarah Palin’s Year Of Living Dangerously].
“I said, ‘Your wife is a phenomenon.’ ” Mr. Palin, he said, replied with a critique of McGinniss’s pipeline story [which had appeared in 2009 in the magazine Portfolio].
Mr. McGinniss said he told Mr. Palin that they could disagree cordially. Mr. Palin, he said, “got silent, folded his arms, and said, ‘We’ll just see.’ “
–from an article appearing late today on the Wall Street Journal’s site, after McGinniss apparently tired of the Salinger routine. (See also his conversation with New York Times reporter and The Night Of The Gun author David Carr.)
“Sadly, she’s right. We tried our best to intervene, but alas, the heart wants what it wants. We can only pray for him now. He’s convinced that Todd will step aside and when the time is right, he’ll be there, right next door, to pick up the pieces.”
–The journalist’s son, novelist Joe McGinniss Jr., when asked by Politico’s Ben Smith to explain his father’s actions. If the concluding words of the first sentence sound familiar, they’re the famous reply of Woody Allen in 1992 when asked to explain his blossoming romance with his teenage stepdaughter Soon Yi. (It should be mentioned that the younger McGinniss later backtracked on this statement to some degree.)
Photo courtesy of Associated Press: Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin puts up a fence between her home and the residence of journalist Joe McGiniss.