In his widely discussed new book A Wilderness of Error, Errol Morris claims that journalists like Joe McGinniss have helped keep an innocent man behind bars for life. Now Joe McGinniss, the author of a best-selling true crime book that assumes MacDonald's guilt, is swinging back forcefully at Morris. Last time we heard from McGinniss, he was making enemies with his Wasilla, Alaska, neighbor and book subject Sarah Palin. This morning, he's taken to his usually dormant Twitter account to defend himself. He lashed out at New York Times book critic Dwight Garner, who gave Morris' book a positive review:
@dwightgarner You wrote from position of total ignorance of facts and legal history.All courts have always been wrong?Drink less koolaid— Joe McGinniss (@joemcginniss) September 14, 2012
Responding to someone who also believes MacDonald is guilty, McGinniss calls out the mainstream media's attention to Morris' book.
@creekbear Proven over&over again, but MSM are suckers for a pitchman selling something different.And too lazy to look into proven facts.— Joe McGinniss (@joemcginniss) September 14, 2012
A similar tweet passes an even harsher verdict on Morris and his book:
@feagaville Didn't see it, but there's much b.s. out there generated by Errol Morris who's flogging a badly flawed, even meretricious book.— Joe McGinniss (@joemcginniss) September 14, 2012
For everyone confused by what all this fuss is about, here's some background. The Jeffrey MacDonald case was one of the most covered murder trials of the 1970s. MacDonald, a clean-cut Army doctor stationed at Fort Bragg, was convicted in 1979 for murdering his two daughters and pregnant wife in 1970. To this day, MacDonald maintains that a band of Mason-esque hippies chanting, "acid is groovy, kill the pigs," were the real culprits. Throughout the trial MacDonald gave Joe McGinniss access to his legal defense team for a book project, under the assumption that the author presumed his innocence. When Fatal Vision came out in 1983 portraying MacDonald as a delusional egomaniac, MacDonald sued McGinniss for breach of contract, alleging that the author duped him into agreeing to a smear job. The book became an NBC miniseries in 1984 and featured prominently in Janet Malcolm's The Journalist and the Murderer.
Enter Errol Morris in 2012. His just-released book A Wilderness of Error not only claims that courts badly botched the MacDonald trial, but also blames journalists like McGinniss for the continued miscarriage of justice. It's worth noting that Morris isn't alone in thinking that the MacDonald case was mishandled—Jerry Allen Potter and Fred Bost's Fatal Justice made a similar argument in 1995. It's also worth noting that Morris has a track record of revising murder cases, successfully freeing Randall Dale Adams from a life sentence with his film The Thin Blue Line.
Expect this journo-sleuth feud to heat up soon. McGinniss said on Twitter, "I'll be in Wilmington, NC federal court next week testifying at Jeffrey MacDonald hearing. Eager to again tell truth." On this occasion, "All will be revealed in Wilmington federal court next week," McGinniss assures. "All DNA questions resolved. No loose ends. And I deal with Stoekley," another prime suspect for those revisiting the case. In a recent New York Times profile, Morris said he's ready for a show-down: "When Mr. Morris was informed that Mr. McGinniss will be testifying, something he had not known, he was visibly excited by the prospect. 'I will be there.'"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.