By ANNE BLYTHE, Raleigh News & Observer
WILMINGTON, N.C. -- The Jeffrey MacDonald case has pulled an unusual book critic into its web of conspiracy theorists and camps of strong opinions. Sarah Palin, the former vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor, has linked from her Facebook page to a complimentary review of Errol Morris' new book about the case, "A Wilderness of Error," on the website Breitbart.com.
It has her byline on it, too.
In his book published this month by The Penguin Press, Morris offers a fresh look at the MacDonald case.
The Oscar-winning documentarian's literary style is unusual, including documents, transcripts and other details amid his narrative of a case that spans four decades. Morris offers his readers no conclusion on whether MacDonald is guilty of slaughtering his family, as a jury found in 1979.
But in interviews since publication, Morris has said he thinks MacDonald is the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice, likely innocent and certainly suffering from a botched investigation and prosecutorial misconduct.
Joe McGinniss, another author who has written about the case in the best-selling "Fatal Vision," concluded otherwise.
And that debate between authors is where Palin comes in.
McGinniss also wrote "The Rogue: the Search for the Real Sarah Palin" after moving in next door to the Palins in Wasilla, Alaska, in May 2010.
Neither the Palins nor the Wasilla townspeople were too thrilled about the new resident or the work he produced. And Palin makes that clear in her review of the Morris book.
She endorses Morris's description of her "old neighbor" as "a craven and sloppy journalist who confabulated, lied, and betrayed while ostensibly telling a story about a man who confabulated, lied, and betrayed."
She went on to say:
"MacDonald signed a contract giving McGinniss exclusive rights to his life story, and so McGinniss was given unprecedented access to the defense team - living with them, working with them, eating with them. But when the guilty verdict came down, McGinniss did a one-eighty on them. Apparently, falsely convicted men don't make for good books. McGinniss decided it was a better story to agree with the jury. MacDonald wasn't a sympathetic figure. He did himself no favors with some media appearances. So, McGinniss went about writing a book that would convince people the government got the right verdict and we could all pat ourselves on the back and leave Jeffrey MacDonald to rot in his jail cell till Judgment Day.
"McGinniss' book actually embellished the prosecution's case - even supplying a motive. According to McGinniss' theory of the case, MacDonald secretly wanted to break free of his wife and kids and so he murdered them one night in a fit of rage induced by some diet pills he was taking. (Oddly enough, the millions of other people who were also taking those same diet pills somehow avoided murdering their families.)"
Palin, no surprise, has a more glowing report about Morris:
"Morris argues with refreshing clarity that objective truth is real and worthy of being sought after despite the pretentious nonsense preached in faculty lounges about all truth being relative. In fact, he argues passionately that the search for truth is what journalism and justice is all about." Morris and McGinniss are both in Wilmington this week.
Morris has been in the courtroom, taking volumes of notes.
McGinniss, who was provided unfettered access to MacDonald and his defense team during the trial, has been less visible. He is on the list of possible witnesses.
Morris was outside the federal courthouse on Tuesday, waiting with a crowd of others to see the MacDonald proceedings.
A woman in line ahead of him asked about his book.
With a telling smile, he said he was thrilled with his latest review, a positive one, "from Sarah Palin."
Palin, some might recall, was the butt of many late-night TV jokes after her inability in 2008 to come up with a list of the newspapers and magazines she read during an interview with Katie Couric.
When asked whether he thought Palin had read his book from cover to cover, Morris said: "Somebody did."