Critical Essay In Cold Blood
The access-for-depiction dynamic is at least as prevalent a tendency in journalism as the seduction-and-betrayal routine.
Just ask the generations of White House officials who have made the discreet trek to Georgetown for an audience with Bob Woodward.
Nancy’s boyfriend, Bobby Rupp, who was the last person to see the Clutters alive, gave an interview “because Al Dewey advised me to.” From New York, Capote wrote letters to the detective, calling him “Foxy” and “Dearhearts,” then demanding one document after another.
As a consequence, according to the , Dewey was rewarded with a slight but significant exaggeration of his investigative prowess. files comes down to timing: in Capote’s telling, Dewey sent his investigator to the Hickock house on the night he received the tip. According to the ’s investigation, even after the jailhouse informant identified Hickock as the killer, Dewey obstinately clung to an erroneous theory of his own: that the murderer was some local with a grudge.
Nye did not venture to the farmhouse alone, at night, or under false pretenses. Consulting locals whom Capote had interviewed, and records from the trial, Tompkins discovered inaccuracies in the book, and focussed, in particular, on the soulful portrayal of Perry Smith, who appeared to have been more conscious and deliberate in carrying out the murders than Capote made him out to be.
Capote didn’t help matters by announcing that he found the presence of a tape recorder or notebook intrusive when conducting interviews, and preferred to rely on his own recollection of what his sources said.
One person who seems to have been aware of this dynamic was Detective Alvin Dewey.
But reporters, too, may find that as a relationship with a source develops, their ability to deliver a coldly rational appraisal is compromised by a sense of compassion, or attachment.Malcolm argued that all journalism was a kind of confidence game—that Mc Ginnis’s seduction and betrayal of Mac Donald was just “a grotesquely magnified version of the normal journalistic encounter.”But if the Mac Donald/Mc Ginnis dynamic is one of betrayal, it is not clear to me that the same could be said of Capote and the people he wrote about.Surely, Malcolm is correct that an implied transaction occasionally exists between journalist and subject—and the journalist occasionally breaks that deal.Approaching a humble, four-room farmhouse, Nye discovers that Hickock is not home—but his parents are. (The Kansans of “In Cold Blood” drink a of coffee.) Nye is crafty: he says nothing of the murders, maintaining instead that he is seeking Hickock for parole violations and check fraud.Unaware of the gravity of their son’s misdeeds, the Hickocks proceed to corroborate many of the details in the account of the jailhouse snitch.“Nye shut his notebook and put his pen in his pocket, and both his hands as well,” Capote writes, “for his hands were shaking with excitement.”It’s a captivating episode—tense, atmospheric, and grounded in the kind of filmic detail that makes “In Cold Blood” so memorable: Marie drying her hands, Nye pocketing his. They did so during the day and spoke only with Hickock’s mother, and there was no ruse; they told her precisely why they were calling.(“Sometimes he said he had ninety-six per cent total recall, and sometimes he said he had ninety-four per cent total recall,” George Plimpton joked, after his death.“He could recall everything, but he could never remember what percentage recall he had.”)It was always Capote’s intention to write a work that would endure.As Janet Malcolm related in “The Journalist and the Murderer” (which, like “In Cold Blood,” began as a series in ), during subsequent legal proceedings, the author Joe Mc Ginnis ingratiated himself with Mac Donald, implying that he believed the doctor was innocent, and received an astonishing degree of access.Mc Ginnis then drew upon this access to write the bestseller, “Fatal Vision,” in which he depicted Mac Donald as a remorseless killer.Nor is it always so irrational for a source to coöperate.If you are a public official or a small-town resident and you realize that some writer is preparing a narrative account of events in which you were directly involved, a certain game theory may influence your decision about whether (and how freely) to talk.