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Joe McGinniss
McGinniss in 1969
McGinniss in 1969
Born (1942-12-09)December 9, 1942
New York City, U.S.
Died March 10, 2014(2014-03-10) (aged 71)
Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.
Occupation Journalist, author
Language English
Alma mater College of the Holy Cross
Period 1964–2014
Genre Nonfiction
and novels
Subject Richard Nixon
Jeffrey R. MacDonald
Sarah Palin
Italian football
Notable works The Selling of the President 1968
Fatal Vision
Cruel Doubt
Blind Faith
Going to Extremes
The Miracle of Castel di Sangro
Spouse Nancy Doherty
Children 5, including Joe Jr.

Joseph Ralph McGinniss Sr. (December 9, 1942 – March 10, 2014) was an American non-fiction writer and novelist.

The author of twelve books, he first came to prominence with the best-selling The Selling of the President 1968 which described the marketing of then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon. He is popularly known for his trilogy of bestselling true crime books—Fatal Vision, Blind Faith and Cruel Doubt—which were adapted into TV miniseries in the 1980s and 90s. His last book was The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin, an account of Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska who was the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee.

Early life and family

McGinniss was born in Manhattan, the only child of travel agent Joseph A. McGinniss and Mary (nee Leonard), a secretary at CBS. He was raised in Forest Hills, Queens, and Rye, New York. In his youth he was given a chance to pick a middle name and chose Ralph, after the baseball player Ralph Kiner.

McGinniss attended Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains and graduated in 1964 from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. After his application to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism was rejected, something he later pointed to with pride, he became a general assignment reporter at the Worcester Telegram. He left within a year to become a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Bulletin before joining The Philadelphia Inquirer as a general interest columnist. In 1979, he became a writer-in-residence at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.

From 1982 to 1985, he taught creative writing at Bennington College in Vermont. While at Bennington, his students included Donna Tartt and Bret Easton Ellis. At the time of his death, The New York Times described him as a "gregarious man who was generous with other writers."


The Selling of the President

McGinniss's first book, The Selling of the President 1968, landed on The New York Times Best Seller list when he was 26 years old, making him the youngest living writer with that achievement. The book was on The New York Times non-fiction bestseller list for 31 weeks from October 1969 to May 1970. The book described the marketing of Richard Nixon during the 1968 presidential campaign.

The book was well received by critics and has been recognized as a "classic of campaign reporting that first introduced many readers to the stage-managed world of political theater." Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, who served as a Richard Nixon campaign adviser and featured prominently in the book, said in a statement that McGinniss "changed political writing forever in 1968." It "spent more than six months on best-sellers lists ... and McGinniss sold a lot of those books through television, appearing on the titular shows of Merv Griffin, David Frost, and Dick Cavett, among others." Conservative writer William F. Buckley, Jr., "assumed McGinniss had relied on 'an elaborate deception which has brought joy and hope to the Nixon-haters.' But even Buckley liked the book."

After the success of his book in 1968, McGinniss left the Inquirer to write books full-time. He next wrote a novel, The Dream Team. It was followed by Heroes and Going to Extremes, a nonfiction account of his year exploring Alaska.

The Last Brother

McGinniss's book The Last Brother: The Rise and Fall of Teddy Kennedy was published in 1993. The volume was widely panned for its skimpy sourcing, lack of attribution, wild suppositions, lack of footnotes, possible plagiarism and prurient outlook. In The New York Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt called it "half-baked" and added, "The book isn't bad; it's awful". "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," wrote Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post. Yardley called it "a genuinely, unrelievedly rotten book, one without a single redeeming virtue, an embarrassment that should bring nothing except shame to everyone associated with it." He also characterized it as "slimy, meretricious and cynical." ..... "McGinniss concludes that the Kennedys are all-American frauds," wrote Publishers Weekly. "The reader will wonder if McGinniss isn't one also." James Atlas wrote that the book was, "even by the standards of celebrity journalism, a sordid spectacle." In The New Republic, Joe Klein called it an "odiography."

McGinniss suggested to the Los Angeles Times that Kennedy himself had orchestrated a smear campaign against him. "This has been a practice of theirs [the Kennedy family] for years," he said and quoted a Boston Globe reporter who recently wrote that the family "'only had two approaches to journalists, either buying or demonizing them." McGinnis declared, "They didn't buy me." .....

Sales of the book were ultimately "disappointing," reported The Baltimore Sun.

The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin

McGinniss returned to the subject of Alaska in 2008 to research an article for Conde Nast's business magazine Portfolio about then Governor Palin's promotion of a $26 billion plan to construct a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope of Alaska to a pipeline hub in Canada. In 2009, McGinniss signed a contract to write an unauthorized biography about Palin and began research which took him to Alaska that fall and again in the spring of 2010. In late May he rented a house next door to Palin's home on Lake Lucille in Wasilla. On her Facebook page, Palin warned him to stay away from her children and mused: "Wonder what kind of material he'll gather while overlooking Piper's bedroom, my little garden, and the family's swimming hole?" causing a brief media frenzy and, according to The Washington Post, "fury from Palin fans". McGinniss responded that there was no view of anyone's bedroom from the rental house and suggested that Palin should have simply come over with a plate of cookies and had a civil discussion with him.

McGinniss left Alaska in September 2010 to write his book on the Palin phenomenon. Broadway Books, a division of Random House, published The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin on September 20, 2011. ..... Early reviews by the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times criticized The Rogue for its use of unnamed sources and for its tone.

On September 26, 2011, ABC News reported that Palin's attorney John Tiemessen had written a letter to the book's author and publisher saying that Palin might sue them "for knowingly publishing false statements." No such lawsuit was ever filed.

In The Washington Post, Gene Weingarten called The Rogue "thin and crappy and lazy, filled with poorly sourced innuendo."

Other works

In 1995, McGinniss was awarded a $1 million advance as well as a media seat at the O. J. Simpson murder case, expecting to write a book about it. But after sitting through the entire protracted trial, McGinniss decided that he couldn't write any book about the case and he returned the entire $1 million advance to his publisher. After Simpson was acquitted, McGinniss stated that the trial had been "a farce."

His next book was the critically acclaimed The Miracle of Castel di Sangro. Published in 1999, the book followed the fortunes of an Italian soccer team from a tiny town during one dramatic season in the big leagues. The Big Horse was published in 2004. In his next book, Never Enough (2007), McGinniss returned to his study of the dark side of the American family with a nonfiction account of the murder of investment banker Robert Kissel by his wife Nancy in Hong Kong, that is called the milkshake murder.

Later life and death

..... He was described by his son, novelist Joe McGinniss Jr., as a sometimes neglectful father who nonetheless encouraged his son's writing career. .....

On January 24, 2013, he confirmed the diagnosis of terminal prostate cancer which had been revealed online in May 2012. McGinniss died March 10, 2014, at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester from the disease at the age of 71.

A private memorial was held in New York in May 2014. Guests such as Roger Ailes, Andrew Sullivan, Gene Weingarten, and Ray Hudson spoke. As news of McGinniss' death spread, several tributes and obituaries were published in publications such as The New York Times, Associated Press, The Washington Post, The Dish, and others.

See also

  • Fatal Vision - 1984 television miniseries
  • Blind Faith - 1990 television miniseries
  • Cruel Doubt - 1992 television miniseries
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