Friday Open Thread: Morally Indefensible and A Wilderness Of Error

In which we once again confront due process, journalistic ethics, and sociopathy

I powered through the six available episodes of Morally Indefensible, the companion podcast to the upcoming FX limited series A Wilderness Of Error — which I am looking forward to despite despising the book (and despite my man D’Addario’s dismissive review for Variety), because part of what put me off about the book is that it felt like an adapted documentary pitch. I was not looking forward to Morally Indefensible; I expected it would be well made (it’s hosted and produced by Marc “The Jinx” Smerling), but that the title comes from the very first line of Janet Malcolm’s anti-McGinniss broadside The Journalist And The Murderer did not seem to position it as a property that shared my stance on the case.

I was right about the first part. It’s paced well and professionally made, albeit with some intrusive ads in the back three (and some source materials the podcast seems content to imply were hard-won, but are from a widely available Inside Edition special we covered on The Blotter Presents). The access to case figures who are still living — McGinniss’s widow; PIs hired by defense counsel; the great Dick Cavett — is excellent. It’s always a pleasure to hear Jim Blackburn’s tar-dipped accent, too. Morally Indefensible scores a few points off my conception of the case, and reminded me of bits of evidence I’d forgotten (or may never have known).

And I was wrong about the second part. Its mission statement — did McGinniss portray a “vicious murderer,” or be-tray an innocent man? — is the very root of why we’re all still interested in the murders of Colette, Kimberly, and Kristin MacDonald 50 years later, but also really frustrating in that it seems like thinking adults can hold both ideas in our heads at the same time. Well, not exactly, because the idea that MacDonald is innocent is laughable IMO…but can’t it be that you actually can con a con, and McGinniss did, classlessly but still within bounds? Morally Indefensible gets at a lot of McGinniss’s dodgy interpersonal behavior, including some weaselly “well actually”-ing he did during the lawsuit brought against him by MacDonald; I’m not saying he was a great, trustworthy guy. I’m saying, much like several of Truman Capote’s friends said after the “La Cote Basque” debacle, that writers write, and it’s foolish to think they’ll change for you.

We’d love to hear from you guys what you think about any MacDonald materials: Malcolm’s book, Fatal Vision, Final Vision, Morally Indefensible, you name it. Have you listened to the podcast? Are you stoked for the miniseries? Do you kind of wish MacDonald himself would just give it up already?