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The Journalist, the Murderer, and Sarah Palin

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, May 25 2010

Ben Smith picks up on the rather fascinating news that Sarah Palin has taken to Facebook to "welcome" her new Wasilla next-door neighbor, journalist Joe McGinniss. McGinniss, as Ben notes, is known for writing The Selling of the President and Fatal Vision, an account of the 1980s North Carolina murder trial of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald. "Joe announced to Todd that he’s moved in right next door to us," posted Palin to Facebook, which has become her favored medium of expression. "He’s rented the place for the next five months or so. He moved up all the way from Massachusetts to live right next to us – while he writes a book about me." Palin suggests that perhaps she'll bring McGinniss a homemade blueberry pie.

But there's one additional twist here. McGinniss also happened to the subject of writer Janet Malcolm's controversial 1990book The Journalist and the Murderer . That book detailed how McGinniss, in Malcolm's view, maliciously betrayed MacDonald as he told the latter's story. McGinniss wrote fawning letters to the doctor, detailing the depth of his belief of the doctor's innocence in the crime of killing his family. Only at the same time, McGinniss was writing a book depicting MacDonald as a murderous psychopath.

Janet Malcolm's book became something of a proxy for the subject -- Dr. McDonald -- in his revenge against a journalist, namely McGinniss, who he felt had done him wrong. His means of revenge was to find another journalist to tell his story. Palin, on the other hand, has Facebook.