There’s no love lost between Cambridge filmmaker Errol Morris and writer Joe McGinniss, and that’s understandable.
McGinniss, after all, is the author of the 1983 bestseller, “Fatal Vision,” which made the case that US Army doctor Jeffrey MacDonald was rightly convicted for killing his pregnant wife and two daughters, while Morris is an Oscar-winning director whose recent book, “A Wilderness of Error,” makes the case that MacDonald was wrongly convicted.
The two have parried in the press since the release of Morris’s book last fall, but the feud took a new turn this month when The Atlantic Monthly published a Q&A with Morris. Now, it’s the magazine that has McGinniss upset.
On his Facebook page, McGinniss posted a lengthy rant about The Atlantic Monthly piece, complaining that “the interviewer was so credulous and fawning that I expected to see a ‘paid content’ label on the story.” But what really bothered him — and prompted him to threaten legal action – was the reporter John Meroney’s claim that MacDonald had “commissioned” McGinniss to write “Fatal Vision.”
“Unless you promptly publish a full and detailed apology and retraction that is displayed at least as prominently as your original article you will soon be served with papers pertinent to the filing of a lawsuit against you individually and The Atlantic as a corporate entity,” McGinniss wrote in a letter to the magazine (and then posted on his Facebook page.)
Aretae Ortiz Wyler, a lawyer for The Atlantic Monthly, responded by saying “the word ‘commissioned’ has several meanings, not all of which are characterized by ‘payment’ or ‘control.’” But she also went on to say that the magazine would update the article “to further clarify the nature of the arrangement” between McGinniss and MacDonald.
So is McGinniss satisfied? Hardly.
“Neither the writer nor the editor showed enough gumption to apologize for the travesty they perpetrated,” he wrote on Facebook. “This small episode has destroyed my faith in a journalistic institution I’ve long considered to uphold the highest standards of our profession.”