Janet Malcolm: The Journalist and the Murderer

contributor_janetmalcolmphoto_p233_cropHere’s a quick tip: When life gets too busy and you find yourself too short on time to read a great book, grab one that’s short and sweet!

In The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm explores the issue of ethics in journalism as well as the relationship between a journalist/author and his/her subject. It tells the true story of how author Joe McGinniss pursues the story of a convicted murderer Jeffrey MacDonald. Essentially, McDonald insists that he is innocent and makes a deal with McGinniss, who wants to write a book about the case. However, McDonald was naively believed that McDonald was on his side, that he too believed the conviction was unjust. He naively trusts an author who already had preconceptions about the case, but nonetheless led McGinniss to believe otherwise so that he could gather information for his new book: Fatal Vision. 

Through this book, I was able to get a glimpse of the type of dilemma journalists face, especially investigative journalists. How do you get the “truth” or the bottom of the story without misleading the subject , at least a little? For instance, if you’re writing a piece on a case of molestation, how do you get the perpetrator and even the victim to talk? Also, it raises the issue of subjectivity in everything we read. Indeed, no matter how “objective” writers try to be, they cannot escape bias.


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