What Mitchell politely leaves out are the controversies that later engulfed McGinniss’ career. A number of other obits for McGinniss led with his book Fatal Vision, which came out in 1983. For the book, McGinniss got unfettered access to former Green Beret Jeffrey MacDonald as MacDonald prepared for a murder trial in which he would be convicted for brutally killing his pregnant wife and two children.
Presenting himself as a supportive friend, McGinniss became convinced early on that MacDonald had done it. Nevertheless, he kept up the charade, reported the trial out, and then buried MacDonald in the book, laying out his own elaborate theory about MacDonald’s guilt. McGinniss was later sued by MacDonald and settled out of court for $325,000.
For Fatal Vision, McGinniss remains the bête noire for journalism teachers trying to teach their debt-ridden pupils to be ethical. Less than two years ago, McGinniss testified against MacDonald at a federal hearing where MacDonald was seeking a new trial.