Earlier: Most probably knew him as the author of Fatal Vision on the Jeffrey McDonald murder case and a recent battle with Errol Morris over that. Or from the Janet Malcolm book about his reporting on McDonald. Others never heard of him until he moved next to Sarah Palin and wrote a book about.
But for me he will always be the guy who wrote the astoundingly influential The Selling of the President, about the new world of "Mad men" execs selling Richard Nixon to the world in 1968 (young Roger Ailes played a key role). That influenced all campaign coverage that followed, including my own two books exploring the real birth of that "selling"--to defeat Upton Sinclair in his race for California governor in 1934, and to get Nixon into the U.S. Senate in 1950. McGinnis revealed on Facebook several months back that he might be in the final months of a fight with prostate cancer, and now he has lost that fight.
From The Selling of the President:
Paul Keyes sat in the chair that had been brought out for Richard Nixon. “It’s too loose. It’s got to have a solid back to it.” “Okay, I’ll take care of that,” Roger Ailes said, and he went slowly back to the control room and called the set designer and told him they needed another chair. The designer protested. “Do you want him to tip over?” Ailes said. “The back is loose. Do you want him to lean back and go over on his ass?” The designer suggested using an orange chair he had brought out earlier. “Goddamn it, no, we’re not going to use an orange chair. We’ve been through that … I said we’re not going to use an orange chair … well, fuck it, then. Forget it. I’ll get the goddamn chair.” He put down the phone and turned to Dolores Hardie, the assistant.
“Get Bob Dwan to get a goddamn chair. I told that creepy bastard of a designer as soon as he brought it out that we weren’t going to use an orange chair.”