Leftist author Joe McGinniss drew several more warm obituaries from the national media. In Wednesday’s Washington Post, on the front of the Style section Gene Weingarten began with a gush: “Joe McGinniss, author of one of the best nonfiction books ever written, died yesterday.”
NPR media reporter David Folkenflik filed an entire story on McGinniss (and it was no Harold Simmons hatchet job on political attack ads). Folkenflik went easy on the last slimy McGinniss book, his full-throttle, fact-challenged attack on Sarah Palin:
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: The concept of hypocrisy is woven through Joe McGinniss' work, the chasm separating our public and private selves. In his final book, a biography of Sarah Palin, McGinness vacuumed up just about every damning fact and rumor he could find involving the former Republican vice presidential nominee and her husband and family, too. In an interview with me in 2011, McGinness explained why.
JOE McGINNISS: She pushes them front and center. She tries to use as a fundamental aspect of her image, the sense that Sarah is a working mother of five great kids. These people are all - they do everything together. Look at her whole reality show. They travel Alaska together and they go mining for gold and hunting caribou. And it's all fake. It's all fake. It's utterly fraudulent.
FOLKENFLIK: The book engendered much criticism, especially his decision to rent a house next door to the Palins. But then, McGinniss seemed to stoke heat throughout his career.
This was about as negative as Folkenflik could get. Earth to Folken-Flack: By this standard, couldn't you rip the Obama family to pieces, since they clearly put their children front and center in some campaign events? Couldn't a less ethical journalist use that as an excuse (as McGinniss did) to imply that their entire marriage and family life was a fraud?
There were no specifics on NPR on what McGinniss alleged. Let’s recall the litany NBC and Savannah Guthrie recklessly repeated: that Palin was “using her children as props and reports she was not much of a mother at all." Sarah and Todd Palin were “fighting incessantly and threatening divorce....Both Todd and Sarah have used cocaine in the past, a claim that has not been verified...McGinniss also quotes friends who speak of a sexual encounter Palin had with basketball star Glen Rice in 1987, while she was a sports reporter for a local Anchorage station, prior to her marriage."
And "McGinniss portrays Palin as 'Hands Off' when it came to governing Alaska, but a ruthless political opportunist who crushed her enemies and rarely lived up to the fiscal conservative image she championed."
For all of his worshipful admiration of McGinniss’s book “Fatal Vision,” Weingarten was blunt on the Palin book: “The majority of McGinniss’s work after ‘Fatal Vision’ was inferior. Much as I hate to agree with Sarah Palin about anything, his 2011 biography of her was thin and crappy and lazy, filled with poorly sourced innuendo.”
Weingarten described meeting the author: "I first met McGinniss in 1988, introduced by a mutual friend, when McGinniss was at the apex of his career, one of the most highly regarded writers of his generation. As it turned out, from that point on, the arc of his career would be not so much a tailspin as a nose dive."
He didn’t mention another much-maligned McGinniss biography: “The Last Brother” on Ted Kennedy in 1993.
In the official WashPost obituary, Matt Schudel just lightly touched on it. Somehow, they couldn’t recall the Post’s own Jonathan Yardley ripping it at the time: "It is, by a wide margin, the worst book I have reviewed in nearly three decades; quite simply, there is not an honest page in it."
Schudel tried to end on a saccharine note:
His 1993 biography of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, “The Last Brother,” was widely derided for imagined dialogue and other deficiencies.
In 2010, while researching a biography on Sarah Palin, Mr. McGinniss rented a house next door to the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate in Wasilla, Alaska, triggering outrage from her supporters. Todd Palin complained of Mr. McGinniss’s “creepy obsession with my wife.”
Regardless of the risks, Mr. McGinniss believed a writer had to dive into a story, to live in his subject’s world to report it with fidelity and understanding.
“For me,” he told The Post, “the only valid kind of writing is simply one guy telling you where he’s been, what he knows and feels.”