Governor Palin's Book Review: Did Joe McGinniss Condemn an Innocent Man?

Monday, September 17, 2012

As readers may remember well, Joe McGinniss showed up in Alaska and moved in next door to the Palins for months to stalk them and write a book of lies about their family. Today, Governor Palin penned a book review, published on Breitbart, that highlights McGinniss' character--or lack thereof--as depicted in A Wilderness of Error by Errol Morris. The book involves Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald's conviction for the murder of his family and, as Governor Palin, quoting The New York Times, writes, “[Morris] will leave you 85 percent certain that Mr. MacDonald is innocent. He will leave you 100 percent certain he did not get a fair trial.”

Governor Palin says several times that she doesn't know certainly whether or not MacDonald is actually innocent of the crime for which he is serving three life sentences. What she does know, however, is that McGinniss, after gaining MacDonald's trust and the trust of his defense team, turned on them and lied about him, seemingly for his own personal gain, just as he viciously lied about her in his book, after luring her family and friends into trusting him.

Governor Palin's review is fascinating and deserves to be read in its entirety. I offer you this excerpt and encourage you to read the full piece at Breitbart:

I don’t normally read “true crime” books, and I’ve certainly never written a review of one, but Errol Morris’ new book, “A Wilderness of Error,” isn’t typical of the genre. It’s much more interesting and I think important. It’s a book about the failings of a legal system administered by very fallible human beings, and it’s a book about how we buy into false media narratives that tidy up uncomfortably complex stories and give us permission to call off any further search for truth – and, yes, Morris argues with refreshing clarity that objective truth is real and worthy of being sought after despite the pretentious nonsense preached in faculty lounges about all truth being relative. In fact, he argues passionately that the search for truth is what journalism and justice is all about.

Morris describes how false narratives can become a sort of prison. He opens by reminding us of the story of “The Count of Monte Cristo” – the novel about an innocent man who escapes from the seemingly inescapable island prison he was sent to. Morris writes that today we have an even worse prison than that fictional one – only ours is “built out of newsprint and media. A prison of beliefs. You can escape from prison, but how do you escape from a convincing story? After enough repetitions, the facts come to serve the story and not the other way around. Like kudzu, suddenly the story is everywhere and impenetrable.”

Like a relentless gardener, Morris tries to remove the “impenetrable” vines forming one such prison. Most people of a certain age will recall the story of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald. People remember him as the Green Beret doctor who killed his family and blamed it on hippies. That quick description also conveniently sums up the conventional narrative about him. The murders of his wife and two little daughters in 1970 at Fort Bragg were monstrous, and for the last three decades society has been content to know that MacDonald is serving three life sentences for the crime. But Morris asks his readers to consider something very upsetting: What if this man is innocent? How horrible is it to imagine a man first having to witness the brutal murder of his family and then being falsely convicted for it and spending over thirty years in prison?

Morris, an Academy Award winning documentary filmmaker whose past work was instrumental in freeing a man falsely convicted of murder, takes apart the key elements of the MacDonald case bit by bit. As the New York Times reviewer put it, “[Morris] will leave you 85 percent certain that Mr. MacDonald is innocent. He will leave you 100 percent certain he did not get a fair trial.” But how did we not hear about this sooner? The incompetent and corrupt manner in which this case was handled is outrageous. The errors are glaring. In order to comfortably be assured that MacDonald got a fair trial and is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” we have to forget a number of significant facts.

Forget the fact that a racist good old boy judge was openly contemptuous and hostile to MacDonald’s Jewish lead defense attorney and his opinion seeped into his decisions. Forget the fact that the prosecution withheld evidence and lab reports (and, according to new evidence, actually threatened the key defense witness to make her change her testimony). Forget the fact that the crime scene itself was badly mishandled – with evidence moved, destroyed, contaminated, and even stolen. Forget the fact that MacDonald had no motive for the crime, and that the in-laws who testified against his character had previously testified under oath praising his character. And most of all, forget the fact that MacDonald gave the police who arrived at the crime scene detailed descriptions of four suspects, and the police had spotted a woman who fit his description wandering around his neighborhood at 3 a.m. while they were on their way to the crime scene. Forget the fact that this same suspect also coincidentally confessed to multiple people that she and three men who fit MacDonald’s descriptions were involved in the murder of his family. Forget the fact that she was spotted that night with these three men by multiple witnesses – including by a witness who saw blood on her boots. Forget the fact that one of the men also confessed to the murders. Forget the fact that they even confessed to having a clear motive for wanting to commit the crime specifically against MacDonald and his family.

So, how was the public convinced that MacDonald was guilty despite all of these “reasonable doubts”?

Enter my old neighbor Joe McGinniss.

MacDonald signed a contract giving McGinniss exclusive rights to his life story, and so McGinniss was given unprecedented access to the defense team – living with them, working with them, eating with them. But when the guilty verdict came down, McGinniss did a one-eighty on them. Apparently, falsely convicted men don’t make for good books. McGinniss decided it was a better story to agree with the jury. MacDonald wasn’t a sympathetic figure. He did himself no favors with some media appearances. So, McGinniss went about writing a book that would convince people the government got the right verdict and we could all pat ourselves on the back and leave Jeffrey MacDonald to rot in his jail cell till Judgment Day.

[...]

McGinniss shattered long-time relationships within my circle of friends and family with his horrendous actions while living 12 feet away from my kitchen and lying to people for his book about me and making them lie or twisting their words or even inventing “sources” out of whole cloth. The result of the “evil thing” he “constructed” was unjustly trashed reputations, shattered relationships, and a book of lies vomited into the public record.

What McGinniss did in my town and to my family was sick and vicious. I sympathize with MacDonald and his defense team because I saw firsthand the twisted way McGinniss operates. Before he moved in right next door to spy on us, he stalked us for months, making creepy unwelcomed “visits” to our house, as he tried to manipulatively win our trust the same way he won the trust of MacDonald and his defense team – all so that he could betray us just as he betrayed them.

Read Governor Palin's full review here.

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