Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Joe McGinniss 1942 - 2014

Joe McGinniss, around 1968, from the cover of "The Selling of the President"

By Patrick

Today we woke up to incredibly sad news. Joe McGinniss has passed away. This came unexpected, despite the knowledge that he was suffering from prostate cancer. It reminds us that we are not invincible.

We got to know Joe McGinniss as a remarkable and straightforward man who was not easily fooled by the public appearance of certain people. One of his main desires was to look beneath the surface, in order to find truth. His goal was to present a "real" view on people and events, as I would call it. 

I cannot claim to be an expert regarding every fact surrounding the life of Joe McGinniss. There are many other people who followed his career for decades, and who knew him much better. However, I was lucky to have some communications with him since he got interested in Sarah Palin, and looking back at the email exchanges, I realized that I had almost forgotten that I exchanged quite a number of emails with him particularly in 2009 and 2010. 

Afterwards, there was rare, if any, contact, which however didn't feel odd at all. There still remained a certain "bond", and he mentioned Politicalgates for example in a very appreciative way on his blog in August 2011, for which we were very grateful. Also, a number of facts which originally were presented first at "Palingates" later found their way into his book "The Rogue", for example Todd's and Sarah's revealing "airport encounter."

Initially, the contact between us intensified in 2009 when I sent him results of our research regarding Sarah Palin's fake bus tour, which in fact turned out to be a "private plane tour." The story originally broke on "Palingates", as some of you will remember, and Joe McGinniss then wrote an article about it at "The Daily Beast." Back then, "Huffington Post" took note and in addition duly reported how Sarah Palin and Harper Collins defended themselves with weak arguments. It was a nice result, and we were thankful to Joe McGinniss that he was willing take on the woman who in 2009 still appeared to be a serious politician and possible future presidential candidate, and that he was willing to cooperate with the "blogs" which sometimes were able to discover very interesting and new facts.

In almost every email communication I had with Joe McGinniss, he made a remark like 

"Patrick, this is off the record, a private communication from me to you." (May 2, 2010),

and I certainly won't publish anything now which he would have regarded as private or inappropriate. But there are some things I can say. 

In an email message from December 2009, Joe McGinniss wondered why Sarah Palin has the habit of sometimes drawing attention to her secrets and scandals through her own actions or words, and added:

"Like serial killers, non-violent psychopaths have the repressed desire to be caught."

To which I responded:

"Yes, Sarah is very, very stupid, and predictable. We know she is mentally ill. It might actually be that just like a criminal, she subconciously wants the truth to come out - so that everything is "finally over"...I absolutely agree with you!!"

Joe McGinniss realized very early that Sarah Palin is a deeply disturbed person. Unfortunately, many other journalists are apparently even today still at loss to understand that Sarah Palin is not your ordinary "right-wing politician", but a mentally ill person. It is incredibly disappointing to read the various obituaries regarding Joe's death today, as almost none of them does justice to his book "The Rogue." 

I read the weirdest things in these obituaries, I don't even want to link to them. I have read that this book was "strange", that it had "little impact", and most of the journalists only seem to remember that he rented the house next to the house of the Palin family. Have they even read the book? I have, and in a weird coincidence only about two weeks ago I began to read it again, on my Kindle App (note: you don't need to buy a "Kindle" if you own a smartphone).

The book is brilliant. Nobody else managed to capture the essence of Sarah Palin, her world, her life and her secrets like Joe McGinniss in "The Rogue." Today, it is still confusing to see that the one person who presented a realistic view of Sarah Palin to the public was being vilified for it.

Only very few journalists managed to keep a clear head as far as Sarah Palin is concerned, and one of them is of course Andrew Sullivan, who wrote today about Joe McGinniss:

But what I truly treasured about Joe – and I came to love him even though we only met a couple of times – was his dogged imperviousness to his peers or to establishment opinion. If he smelled a story, he would dig in, obsessively recovering its human truth. If others thought the story was irrelevant or non-existent, it wouldn’t affect him. His motivation, as it was with his first book, was to peel back the layers of image and propaganda and spin to reveal the reality. He did this with Jeffrey McDonald. And he did it with Sarah Palin.

Of course, we bonded over the former half-term governor. He reached out to me when I was wildly exposed among journalists for refusing to believe her stories at face value. And what we bonded over was not a mutual revulsion at her politics. What we bonded over was the abject failure of the American press to say what had to be said about this preposterous, delusional maniac plucked from deserved obscurity by John McCain to be a heartbeat away from a potential presidency.

Her candidacy was a total farce; a disgrace; an outrage to American democracy; an appalling act of cynicism. Joe saw the creation of this media figure as a continuation of the Ailes recipe for optic politics, and he was appalled as so many mainstream outlets nonetheless insisted on taking this joke seriously.

So he went to do what others wouldn’t: to find the real truth about Palin, and he came closer than almost anyone.

I don’t see his last book as some kind of aberration, though it was obviously not in the same league as The Selling Of The President or Fatal Vision. I saw them all as a continuing crusade for a journalism that takes a stand, that welcomes obloquy if that’s what it takes to get to the truth, and that cares about our democracy. He would never have aimed for the “view from nowhere” or the facile mantra that one leading Washington journalist gave me when asked to explain why they hadn’t sought any proof for the fantastic Trig story that Palin spun: “Why ask questions when you know you won’t get an answer?” For Joe that was pathetic. As indeed it was.

We couldn't have said it any better: As far as the truth about Sarah Palin is concerned, "he came closer than almost anyone."

Also, he was not shy to talk about it, calling Sarah Palin for example "an utter fraud":

There is an interesting parallel to the case of the documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield, who also went to Alaska in order to find the "real" Sarah Palin. He had a similar strategy, went to Alaska, talked to various people who knew her very well, and apparently came to similar conclusions. However, his documentary was also not received very well, despite being totally "spot on" and also very gripping to watch, because the critics obviously had real difficulties in understanding that the "public life" of Sarah Palin is just a false, fraudulent misrepresentation.

The "big lie" theory worked well for Sarah: Only a few people obviously could imagine that somebody is bold enough to present one lie after the other to the world, always insisting that the lies are the absolute truth. As no intelligent person would ever do such a thing, Sarah Palin got away with it - and Joe McGinniss and Nick Broomfield simply were wrong. They had to be. They were "strange."

Nick Broomfield's documentary "You Betcha" feels almost like "the film to the book of Joe McGinniss":


This is certainly not the last time we will talk about Joe McGinniss. Finally, I have actually a little "anecdote" to tell from our email conversations, without breaching the privacy. 

On May 1, 2010, I said to him in an email conversation:

"By the way, I was delighted to find your name in a book I was reading recently - "Lost Over Laos" - in connection with Henri Huet. Long time ago, isn't it!"

This book is a thorough examination of the tragic helicopter crash in Laos in 1971 in which four war photographers were killed - amongst them the famous war photographers Henri Huet and Larry Burrows (they were 43 and 44 years old when they died).

Joe McGinniss was touched by my remark, responded and explained that

"Henri (Huet) was a great friend to me in Vietnam in '67, and in the early '70's both to Nancy Doherty, the photographer who later became my wife, and to me."

It is not very well known that Joe McGinniss spent quite a while in Vietnam as a journalist. Joe explained in the email that he had actually met Henri Huet earlier on the day Henri died, and said:

"That night, back at Quang Tri, having spent a full day at Khe Sanh, we looked for Henri so we could have dinner with him. I don't remember exactly who told us, or in what context--it probably was an AP reporter--that Henri's chopper had been shot down and that there were no survivors."

Joe added:

  "Roll of the dice. A fine man lost. Like so many others."

The same could be said of Joe, and even though he reached the age of 71, we lost him far too early.

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