The New York Times trashed his book on Sarah Palin. Politico noted that it had united Palin with her fiercest antagonists - the dreaded "lamestream media" - in opposition to its prurience and spiteful tone.
But now Joe McGinniss is defending himself.
The muckraking author of The Rogue spoke to Lloyd Grove of Newsweek about his Palin tome and the reaction to it, which has primarily consisted of denunciations of the most salacious details he revealed about Palin. (Denouncing salacious gossip being, of course, the best excuse for repeating it.)
McGinniss "dismisses the notion that his unremitting hatchet job on the former Alaska governor—who, in his account, is not just a bully, but also a religious nut, a racist, a bulimic, and a bad mother who occasionally snorted cocaine and strayed from her marriage—will engender widespread sympathy for Palin as the defenseless prey of a left-wing stalker," Grove writes.
“I don’t know anyone who’s not a card-carrying member of the Tea Party who would believe something as foolish as that," he said.
The author offers a well-traveled defense for his extensive use of anonymous sources to trash Palin, her character, and her performance as governor of Alaska. He knows what he's doing.
McGinniss says he decided which sources were credible “on the basis of 40-plus years in journalism. By this point in my career, if I can’t tell what’s true and what somebody’s making up for nefarious reasons, I’ve been in the wrong business all this time.”
But Grove appropriately zeroes in on the juiciest of the book's revelations to highlight the delicate line McGinniss treads, that between unstinting dedication to exposing new information and simple gossipping.
Of a claim that Palin slept with a still-famous college basketball star before her marriage, Grove writes:
McGinniss speculates that they did the deed in a college dorm room in Anchorage or possibly a hotel. But when he actually interviewed the former Miami Heat star, he didn’t directly ask him if they had sex. Instead, McGinniss asked: “So you never had the feeling she felt bad about having sex with a black guy?” Rice’s reply: “No, no, no, nothing like that.”
Despite the ambiguity of that response, McGinniss insists, “I think it’s pretty clear ... That’s certainly the impression I came away with.”
The impression he came away with? That sounds weaselly, more a description of half-hearted fact-checking than real due diligence. The sort of approach to truth favored by cynical politicians and best exposed, once upon a time, by muckraking reporters like Joe McGinniss.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.