Bestselling author and political gadfly Joe McGinniss died today after a year-long battle against inoperable prostate cancer. He was 71.

McGinniss first drew attention as a young reporter covering the 1968 presidential election for the Philadelphia Inquirer. The result, "The Selling of the President 1968," was the first real coverage of the political advertising machine that helped get Richard Nixon elected. The book—which got then-young-Nixon-aide Roger Ailes fired—spent months on the New York Times bestseller list and propelled McGinniss to a national stage.

Ten years and a few novels later, McGinniss was approached by a former Green Beret named Jeffrey MacDonald, who had been accused of murdering his pregnant wife and two small children. MacDonald asked McGinniss to write a book about what really happened.

MacDonald, who sustained a punctured lung and minor injuries, had insisted that the house was overrun by a gang of drug-crazed hippies that chanted slogans such as "Acid is groovy" and spelled "PIG" in blood on a bedroom wall, a murderous rampage seemingly inspired by the then-recent Charles Manson killings.

But the result, McGinniss's 1983 tome "Fatal Vision," settled on MacDonald (who had at that point already been convicted by a jury) as the culprit, describing the man as a sociopath who killed his family in a diet-pill frenzy.

Nor did McGinniss's most recent publication, "The Rogue" fail to attract the attention and controversy that followed his earlier works: to research the book on Sarah Palin, he famously moved to Alaska and rented the house next door to hers. Among other assertions, McGinniss's book claimed Palin had a "fetish" for black men, cheated on Todd with an NBA player, and used cocaine and marijuana.

McGinniss's attorney and long-time friend Dennis Holahan told the AP that he died at a Massachusetts hospital earlier today.

[image via AP]