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on 17 February 2011
Story:
In the 1983 convicted killer Jeffrey MacDonald sued author Joe McGinniss for writing a biased account of his case ('Mcginniss Joe : Fatal Vision (Signet)'). He nearly won.
Janet Malcolm takes a psychoanalytical into what caused half the jury to vote in favour of a man who had just been convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and two children.

Despite pulling out all the psychoanalytical stops for her investigation into the case, this book is exceptionally accessible to all.
Starting off her analysis of the whole debacle, Malcolm begins by creating analogies between those who open up to journalists and the subjects of Stanley Milgram's famous obedience experiments. It seems like a huge leap but Malcolm strongly believes that when we are in the presence of writers / journo's, we all tend to loose a our self control and become subservient to those throwing the questions - just as Milgram's subjects gave up their self control and followed the order to torture. In a nutshell Malcolm believes subjects are putty in the hands of their manipulative writers, therefore the journalist has a responsibility to deliver the truth without bias.

And this is the springboard for Malcolm's own journey.

Malcolm's investigation leads her on an expedition to find the bias in 'Fatal Vision' and prove her point (that Joe McGinniss was manipulative and deceitful in his account), but in doing so she is be becoming more and more partizan. It seems at one point 'the jokes on her'.
In the end Malcolm acknowledges her own predilection, but uses this only to prove her initial point that the writer a has all that power - which inevitably leads to corruption.

So yes writers are naughty with the facts, but they really can't help it.
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on 1 August 2013
This is a deeply provocative work - in the best sense of the term - and one which raises some basic questions about the trade of journalism. It is also extremely well-written.
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on 21 September 2005
In this beguiling work, Malcolm ascribes to the journalist-subject relationship the phenomenum which Heisenberg, working in atomic physics, characterised as the uncertainty principle: namely that through the process of observation, the observer alters the outcome.
To explore the question, she studies a curious legal case in which a triple-murderer successfully sued an author who reported his case: the jury ruled that the writer had wilfully and maliciously misled the convict to such a degree that he was liable, to the tune of $350k, for his subject's wounded feelings.
Malcolm, in forensic detail, attempts to determine the point at which journalistic licence becomes outright lying; and the point at which humouring a subject in order to extract a story becomes manipulation.
Although at times dry, and at others veering towards being sanctimonious, any working journalist who is not too proud or too self-deluded will at least feel uncomfortable pangs - even if they are not finally persuaded that their trade is 'morally indefensible.'
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on 25 June 2016
One could admire Janet Malcolm more if she a) didn't eternally project herself as more knowing, more intelligent, more able to penetrate to the very heart of the matter, than anybody else, most especially her (hapless) subjects, and b) weren't always giving heavy-handed Freudian explanations for all the phenomena and behaviours she describes. There is something both intolerably smug about her tone -- a sort of triumphant 'aha!' being the background note -- and infuriatingly reductive about her 'insights'.
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on 7 September 2013
An article in a weekly magazine portrayed three female writers of New Journalism (1960s) so I browsed and ordered some recommended work, one of which this book. It does illustrate very well the trappings a wrter / journalist may face. Enjoyed it thoroughly.
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on 19 February 2014
I'm quite happy with the punctuality of my delivery!

I was recommended this book in one of my journalism classes and it's a great read so far! Definitely makes you think about the media, crime and the fascination with it all! Must-read!
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on 17 September 2014
Brilliant analysis of an incredibly strange, morally complicated relationship between a journalist and a convicted murderer. The real thrill of it is that Janet Malcolm, despite her careful tone, really dislikes Joe McGinniss.
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on 21 August 2013
More factual than I was expecting but some interesting arguments, explores a real case and considers the motivations of the participants
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on 5 February 2016
Another angle to the Jefferey Macdonald story
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on 9 December 2014
fantastic read for any book enthusiast.
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