Back in my younger and more vulnerable years, I did high school journalism and one of the big concerns was how to report on minors, considering at least 3/4 of the people in the school were under the age of 18. There's a lot of legal precedent to treat high school journalists with the same privileges as working journalists, but at the same time there is a lot of push back from principals who have concerns about parents calling, or even worse, suing. When we reported we always had to be super aware of all these concerns, and have a lot of reason to address any of those sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll topics especially when interviewing fellow students.
So, when there's a book that combines thorny issues of journalism ethics and crime writing, it was something I had to check out.
Dr. Jeffrey R. MacDonald's family is brutally murdered, and he is the only active suspect at the time. A military court comes to the conclusion he was not responsible, but the opposite happens when it's take to a civilian jury trial. During the jury trial, MacDonald needs a way to pay his lawyers and comes up with a book deal, where he would retain some of the profits of the book to fund his defense. Joe McGinniss, the journalist who eventually is hired, decides that he believes MacDonald is guilty of the murders of his pregnant wife and young daughters and writes the book to damn MacDonald in the court of public opinion.
MacDonald and his lawyers do not like this and sue.
Janet Malcolm dissects the ethics of New Journalism with respect to this case (what happens when the journalist becomes part of the story?) and what it means to have a journalist actually separate from the work. There's the unwritten social contract between journalist and subject that the journalist can write almost what they want. On the other hand, journalists don't want to burn bridges with sources. "And [the interviewees] still say yes when journalists call, and still they are astonished when they see the flash of the knife," Malcolm concludes.
The facts of the MacDonald case aren't the issue, and frankly with the evidence present gives almost no insight into whether MacDonald is insane, consciously murdered his family, or is totally innocent. It's like one those unsatisfying episodes of "Dateline" where we can never know for sure.
What we can know it that the relationship between journalists and their subjects is hazy at best, and how much lying the journalist can do in order to get the scoop is still up for debate. McGinniss definitely crossed some lines, but where that exact line is Malcolm discusses but cannot conclude for sure.
Recommended to read along side some modern true crime, like [b:In Cold Blood|168642|In Cold Blood|Truman Capote|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1365125582s/168642.jpg|1940709] or [b:The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox|11161726|The Fatal Gift of Beauty The Trials of Amanda Knox|Nina Burleigh|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320528136s/11161726.jpg|16085703].