After 22 Years, My Rebuttal to Janet Malcolm Goes Public

Thanks to the miracles of modern science (i.e. the internet) the 26-page essay I published as an epilogue to the 1989 edition of Fatal Vision, in response to Janet Malcolm’s wrongheaded and factually inaccurate New Yorker attack on my journalistic ethics and me, (later published as a book titled The Journalist and The Murderer)  is now available online.

And guess where?

Right here. On this very site where you already are.

As I say in the introduction to the epilogue–I know it’s weird to have an “introduction” to an “epilogue,” but what can I do?–

In 1989, the New Yorker published a two-part article by Janet Malcolm entitled “The Journalist and the Murderer.” In the article, which was published in book form a year later, Malcolm offered her skewed perception of my relationship with Jeffrey MacDonald–the subject of my 1983 book, Fatal Vision–to support her bizarre hypothesis that “Every journalist…knows that what he does is morally indefensible.” So numerous and egregious were Malcolm’s omissions, distortions and outright misstatements of fact that I felt compelled to set the record straight in an epilogue to the updated edition of Fatal Vision that was published in 1989.   There is no statute of limitations on truth. Even now, twenty-two years later, Malcolm’s fictions ought not to be accepted uncritically.

What makes this relevant to THE ROGUE is that Jeffrey MacDonald was the first pathologically narcissistic psychopath about whom I ever wrote a book.

Guess who’s the second?

28 Responses to “After 22 Years, My Rebuttal to Janet Malcolm Goes Public”

  • Freesia:

    “Jeffrey MacDonald was the first pathologically narcissistic psychopath about whom I ever wrote a book.

    Guess who’s the second?”

    Wow. That was blunt. I welcome it. It’s important. And yes – I guessed who’s the 2nd.

    I look forward to reading your rebuttal because I suspect, going by your final statement there, that I’m going to learn a lot about you and journalism – and by default a certain patholically narcissistic psychopath.

  • brbr2424:

    I was going to ask you if you thought Sarah Palin suffered from some mental illness or disorder and was happy to see your opinion. I read that narcissists rarely seek therapy because they don’t think they have a problem even though they make everyone around themselves miserable. I wonder if she is taking any psychiatric drugs which would be one of the many reasons why she didn’t release her medical records. I’ve read other posters suggesting that she does something weird with her tongue when she speeks which is an indcation of long term use of a certain psychiatric drug.

  • themom:

    Dang….I should have put a rush on my pre-ordered book…..maybe I would receive it earlier. Yes, I dare dream!

  • Martha:

    I love your term: “pathologically narcissistic psychopath” !

    It may not be the medically accepted combination of NPD and psychopathic tendencies, but it sure fits Sarah Palin to a t! Maybe she’s a schizophrenic pathologically narcissistic psychopath – that would explain the glaring reality that she has more than one mental and emotional dysfunction!

    “Pathological narcissism should not be construed as a form of psychosis because:

    1. The narcissists is usually fully aware of the difference between true and false, real and make-belief, the invented and the extant, right and wrong. The narcissist consciously chooses to adopt one version of the events, an aggrandizing narrative…(Sarah doesn’t know that word and never will)

    2. Throughout, the narcissist is in full control of his faculties, cognizant of his choices, and goal-orientated. His behaviour is intentional and directional. He is a manipulator and his delusions are in the service of his stratagems. Hence his chameleon-like ability…(to wear Bristle’s clothes since Bristle outgrew them & hates patent leather anyway)

    3. Narcissistic delusions rarely persist in the face of blanket opposition and reams of evidence to the contrary. The narcissist usually tries to convert his social milieu to his point of view. He attempts to condition his nearest and dearest to positively reinforce his delusional False Self. But, if he fails, he modifies his profile on the fly. He “plays it by ear”. His False Self is extemporaneous – a perpetual work of art…(that’s another confusing big word for Sarah to mangle – just a matter of time)

    Though the narcissistic personality is rigid – its content is always in flux. Narcissists forever re-invent themselves, adapt their consumption of narcissistic supply to the “marketplace”, attuned to the needs of their “suppliers”. Like the performers that they are, they resonate with their “audience”, giving it what it expects and wants. They are efficient instruments for the extraction… (of stupidity. Sorry, that’s me talking)

    As a result of this interminable process of fine tuning, narcissists have no loyalties, no values, no doctrines, no beliefs, no affiliations, and no convictions…( there isn’t much in the way of brain mass, either )

    Psychotics, by comparison, are fixated on a certain view of the world and of their place in it. They ignore any and all information that might challenge their delusions. Gradually, they retreat into the inner recesses of their tormented mind and become…(Sarah’s schizophrenic twin)

  • Martha:

    “evil” twin

  • Molly_WI:

    Ooo…….oooo…….I know!!!

    Yessirree, Bob, HER, although I prefer the term “sociopath” especially in her case, because it further emphasizes the antisocial aspects of her pathology.

  • True Blue Girl:

    Glad to see your acknowledgement of her narcissistic psychopathology.

    I have long worried that those who view her as merely a opportunistic, greedy, manipulative, bullying, racist, ignorant, dominionist, deceitful, vindictive, ambitious and arrogant grifter were giving her too much credit.

    No, seriously.

  • CougInPortland:

    Joe, I read it all. Back in the 60’s/70’s tape recorders WERE used. Every good journalist/author had one. As far as I’m concerned, the statement “I was annoyed that the exact three things that I had hoped would not be mentioned in the column were mentioned in the first paragraph” is very TELLING about one Mr. McDonald because that is what a good a good sleuth does. Weighs all aspects, lies awake at night going over and over…just like you did. He was playing you and you still saw through it.

    No one asks questions anymore, they just “report.” No wonder Her Heinous got so nervous when you moved in next door. I applaud these books that are coming out, I applaud ALL of you, and have them pre-ordered. Tina Fey was spot ON in the SNL send-up about people taking her words verbatim. Well, DUH. Any thinking person would and research. Floyd Orr’s, of which I have almost finished, is a preface and, with a pit in my stomach because of which, just beg TRUE journalists/authors/bloggers to NOT. LET. UP.

  • empish:

    tardive dyskinesia

  • CougInPortland:

    apologies for the double “a good”

  • AFM:

    Hey Joe, watch your back you know the republicans that support this crazy woman will come after you. They just lust her so much. They don’t think with the brain on the shoulder but think with the little brain between their legs.

  • Connie:

    Thank you for sharing your rebuttal. I have always been interested in this case. I loved your book “Fatal Vision”.

    When I was in the Air Force and attended Military Police Investigations School, the MacDonald case was one we studied, one in which we learned from the many mistakes the on-scene investigators made.

    I am curious to see if MacDonald will be given a new trial now that a federal appeals court has directed a lower court to consider the DNA evidence from the strand of hair found under one of his daugther’s fingernails which does not match MacDonald or anyone in the family, the synthetic hair found on a hairbrush and the statement of the retired US Marshal. After all of these years I am still on the fence when it comes to his guilt or innocence.

  • Joe:

    I watched my back–and front–all last summer in Wasilla.
    And do you know what? I never had a single unpleasant encounter with a Palin supporter
    (unless you count when Todd came over into my yard to warn me that he’d be trying to run me off.)


  • Joe:

    If you read the Fourth Circuit opinion, you’ll see it’s about proper district court procedure and does not call into question the finding of MacDonald’s guilt. On the fence? What fence? You “loved” Fatal Vision and still don’t believe that he murdered his pregnant wife and two young daughters? If you want to convince yourself in a way that I failed to do, please download and read all briefs by both sides over the past twenty years. (There are now 41 years of legal argument, but I don’t know how far back electronic access goes.)

    That the earth revolves around the sun and that the sun rises in the east has not been proved any more conclusively than MacDonald’s guilt.


  • BlueberryT:

    Your rebuttal of Janet Malcolm’s article and book may be 22 years old, but they are very timely indeed. Thanks for publishing this here. I am duly impressed by the documentation that you provide to prove how shallow and biased her work was. I cannot imagine anyone more qualified to write a book about a pathologically narcissistic psychopath who continues to affect our national discourse and covets power and dominion. I look forward all the more to reading The Rogue — can’t wait!

  • Connie:

    The investigator in me has too many unanswered questions. In my opinion there is reasonable doubt. On the way to the crime scence one of the MP’s reported seeing a woman in a floppy hat. The crime scene was not properly secured. Helena’s statement about not being able to ride the horse because of the broken spring, how did she know it was broken? Whose hair is it that was found under the daughter’s fingernail it if was not Jeff’s or anyone else’s in the family? Where did the hair come from? Was it Helena who said she used a hairbrush to brush her wig while in the quarters? I don’t think they ever figured out where the synthetic hair came from that was found on the hairbrush. Just a few of the questions the investigator in me has which is why I can’t say with 100% certainty in my opinion that he is guilty. None of this is meant to take anything away from your book, please don’t take my opinion that way. Fatal Vision is an excellent book. Your rebuttal of Malcom’s article is well written.

  • Brad Scharlott:

    Russell Baker in one of his books (“The Good Times,” I think) had a chapter on LBJ, whom he covered a lot. Baker did not use the term narcissistic personality disorder – maybe he never heard of it – but I am quite familiar with it because it describes a relative of mine. I was struck by how much like a clinical NPD case Johnson seemed to be. Bill Moyers also has commented on the exquisite emptiness at the emotional center of LBJ, which aptly describes NPDs.

    So I suppose one point is that some people with NPD can be high functioning, although the distorting effects of the disorder could have accounted for LBJ’s disastrous mistakes re Viet Nam. But I am not suggesting Palin could have been another LBJ if given the chance. He was extremely smart and talented; she’s an idiot, by comparison.

  • Scorpie:

    Although it’s late for me, I had to finish your rebuttal to that NY Times reporter. Very interesting and so well-written. I am so envious of your talent.

  • KathrynC:

    What a fu#%+ng redneck he was! Threatening to run you off sounds like such a backwards hillbilly thing to do. And then that fence? It was so over the top and it made them look ridiculous, not you. I mean really.. That stupid psycho statement she made about mowing the lawn in her bathing suit with Trig strapped to her back? What a fruit ake! She even continued to talk about on her silly TV show. She truly is a narcissistic psychopath and her behavior just reinforces over and over how true that is! Sorry to go a bit off topic from your post . I know you can’t say now but I’ll be curious if you talk about how odd, overly dramatic and weirdly paranoid their response was.

  • nancy in Ak:

    Great blog post! Wonderful ending!

  • FrostyAK:

    Thank you! For stating outright that $P is mentally ill. I hope that will be made quite clear in the book.

    She fits SOOO many psychological pathologies, that maybe there will eventually be a new DSM entry known as ‘malignant palinism’.

  • Joe:

    All points well taken. But let’s not confuse “psychopath” or “sociopath” with “psychotic.”

    After almost 25 years of grappling with such definitions, and with such people, I’m inclined to agree with

    “There is some debate about whether there is a meaningful difference between sociopaths and psychopaths. The DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used by psychologists) lists both under the heading of Anti-social Personality Disorder, and there are different schools of thought on whether they should be treated as distinct. Psychopaths and sociopaths both apparently lack a conscience. Both will engage in behavior that harms others with no feeling of guilt or remorse, and rarely consider the risks to others implicit in their actions. They have an intellectual understanding of pro-social emotions, but seem to feel no emotional bonds with others. The result is that they can seem like perfectly decent and reasonable human beings in most situations, but can take bizarrely inappropriate actions to satisfy perceived insults, fantasies, or mere whims.
    Those psychologists who make a distinction between the two usually do so on the basis of organization. Sociopaths are seen as disorganized and rash, making extreme responses to normal situations. They lack impulse control. Psychopaths, by contrast, are highly organized, often secretly planning out and fantasizing about their acts in great detail before actually committing them, and sometimes manipulating people around them.”

    The psychotic, however, is a whole different kettle of crazy.

    Jeffrey MacDonald is a sociopath/psychopath. He attended Princeton University and graduated from Northwestern University Medical School. He is very smart, highly organized, extraordinarily manipulative and utterly charming. He’s also a pathological liar without either a conscience or the capacity for remorse. In a state of possibly amphetamine-fueled rage, he clubbed and stabbed his pregnant wife and two small daughters to death and he’s been lying about it without blinking for 41 years. (See the portion of the 1989 Fatal Vision epilogue in which I describe the privately-administered polygraph exam he took a few weeks after the murders.)

    But Jeffrey has an older brother, whom I also came to know during the 1979 trial and thereafter.

    The older brother, Jay MacDonald, is psychotic.

    When I knew him, Jay believed himself to be the ambassador to earth from another planet. He wrote me letters that had, as return addresses, planets and even galaxies not known to the rest of us. He would sit at dinner during Jeffrey’s trial in 1979 and relate what Abraham Lincoln had told him at lunch.

    He was also violent. He was arrested during Jeffrey’s trial after assaulting a Duke University campus security guard who told him his ambassadorial credentials from Planet X were not in order.

    After Jeffrey’s conviction, Jay wrote letters to high-ranking government officials in which he made threats deemed so serious that he was arrested and imprisoned. Ironically (?), or just sadly, he wound up serving his time in the Federal Correctional Institution at Terminal Island, California–the same prison where I’d visited Jeffrey after his conviction for murder.

    Two brothers who served time in the same federal prison: one guilty of violent crimes, the other guilty of having threatened violent crimes against public officials.

    But not peas in a pod. One a psychopath, the other a psychotic.

    Lucky me, I knew them both.


  • Freesia:

    Her comment about Joe invading their yard was one of the funniest things she’s ever said. Their “swimmin’ hole” (ha ha. Thanks for the bit of cheese Ellie Mae Palin. If they’d had a pool I suppose she’d have called it the “ce-ment pond”. ) and her children’s play area (it’s called a yard Sarah), and her “little garden” (like I really believe she gets out there and grows tomatoes and radishes with her manicured talons). But the best part was referring to mowing the lawn with Trig in his toddler backpack like: a. I believe she mows and b. does it with a child strapped to her back.

    The entire comment was for her cult followers. Strappin’ her young’un across her back and workin’ the land. Being sure to work in Trig and a careful reference to doing it all in shorts and a tank top to make a titillating image for her evangelical boyfriends.

    Ridiculous woman.

  • Melly:

    Were you anticipating the online reissue of Malcolm’s piece, or did it come out of the blue? I just wonder about the timing.

  • Martha:

    I was just having more fun at Sarah’s expense, but reading through your cliff notes of the depth of research for this book is kind of bone chilling weird. You had already broken through “this can’t really be happening, a single person can’t possibly be this messed up and dangerous” that others in the nation just can’t wrap their minds around. If you haven’t seen yet the depths of depravity first hand, it doesn’t seem quite possible that in our little corner of the world, we’ve produced one of the worst humans to come along in quite some time.

    I used to describe the feeling I had after the Twit was announced as VP candidate that being an Alaskan was like living in the horror movie where no one believed you about the monster until they were all devoured. It sounds like you know that feeling very well. People do not want to believe that evil exists in a semi functioning human. It does. I believe you.

  • Ivyfree:

    Joe- I’dd add that she has some kind of learning disability. Not sure what it is, but she seems unable to connect the dots and come up with rational conclusions. And bipolar tendencies- she has manic episodes and periods of depression too.

    Really, she’s just a mess.