New Book on Amanda Knox Addresses Sensationalistic Media Coverage

I just finished reading Murder in Italy by Candace Dempsey, a book about the murder trial in Italy of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.  The book is disturbing in its coverage of the media in this case, particularly of the British and Italian press.  Candace Dempsey is an award winning writer and blogs for the Seattle PI.   In her book, Dempsey documents several efforts by British tabloid Daily Mail to pay UW classmates of Amanda Knox for stories about her.    The British tabloid Telegraph.co.uk alleged that after Amanda Knox found out her roommate had been murdered, she went out on a shopping spree for lingerie.   In fact, she had to buy new underwear because the police cordoned off her apartment.   Nevertheless, the Telegraph quoted an Italian shopkeep as offering the opinion that she did not show remorse in the right way.  This seems like one of those stories that was paid for.  In other instances, the Italian authorities improperly took the diary of Amanda Knox and leaked it to the press.

The British and Italian tabloids that wrote these sensationalistic stories seem to ignore a classic rule of journalism, i.e. the two source rule.  Under the two source rule, a journalist would seek corroboration from a different source for scandalous allegations like the above.   The journalistic codes of several American tabloids in the U.S. operate the same way.  I remember being contacted a while ago by the National Enquirer about a murder case I was prosecuting.  They interviewed me for about ten minutes, and declined my offer to send down court documents to back up what I claimed.  “That won’t be necessary” I was told.   The paper than ran a story based on what I said alone.   I do remember that the reporter often would try to get me to say sensationalistic things.  The reporter, who had a British accent incidentally, would say, “I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but that sounds outrageous!”.  When I just answered “uh-Huh”, he just repeated the same “question”, but I never took the hint and said “outrageous” for him, which was what he apparently wanted.

Much of the bad press coverage mentioned in Candace Dempsey’s book didn’t even seem intentional, rather it was just sloppy.  For example, the tabloids printed a supposed excerpt from Amanda’s diary, that read as follows:

That night I smoked a lot of marijuana and I fell asleep at my boyfriend’s house.  I don’t remember anything.  But I think it is possible that Raffaele went to Meredith’s house, raped her and then killed her.  And then when he got home while I was sleeping, he put my fingerprints on the knife.  But I don’t understand why Raffaele would do that.

In reality, Candace Dempsey explains that this excerpt was a bad translation of English to Italian, and back to English.  The actual text of the diary was:

Raffaele and I have used this knife to cook, and it’s impossible that Meredith’s DNA is on the knife because she’s never been to Raffaele’s apartment before.   So unless Raffaele decided to get up after I fell asleep, grabbed said knife, went over to my house, used it to kill Meredith, came home, cleaned the blood off, rubbed my fingerprints all over it, put it away, then tucked himself into bed, and then pretended really well the next couple of days, well, I just highly doubt all of that.

In another instance of bad translation, Amanda Knox’s childhood soccer-field nickname “Foxy Knoxy” was translated by the Italian press as “Volpe Cattiva”.  Volpe meaning fox, and Cattiva meaning bad, wicked or naughty.

In the U.S., we learn in school that irresponsible journalism is just the price we pay for having a strong first amendment, and a free press.  But in Italy, you have to wonder, because the freedom of the press is much more limited.  The Italian courts are still full of criminal liable charges which would be unconstitutional in the U.S. under the Supreme Court decision of New York Times v. Sullivan in 1964. In fact Amanda Knox is now facing criminal libel charges in Italy for maintaining that she was hit in the head by Italian investigators when they pressured her to confess during an all-night interrogation. We should also recall how much harassment Italian journalist Mario Spezi has faced from the police.  See here.

In light of the Italian government’s strict control of the press, why were the false stories about Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito allowed to continue?

9 Responses to “New Book on Amanda Knox Addresses Sensationalistic Media Coverage”

  • Patrick King:

    Thank you, Mr. Graham, for your forthright review of Murder In Italy. I am unable to accurately express my fury over the plight of Amanda Knox. I am especially enraged at the fact the government of the United States of America is helpless to protect its citizens from this type of barbaric abuse when traveling abroad. You do not mention that Ms. Knox and Mr. Sollecito were convicted on evidence termed LNC DNA. Such organic samples are too degraded to be tested with any certainty. They would not be produced as evidence in any US or UK courts. What the case of Amanda Knox proves is that we all need a World Court to hold every nation to specific standards of evidence and evidence collection especially when prosecuting foreign visitors for sensational crimes. The rush to judgment in the murder of Meredith Kercher was a tragic error. The unwillingness of the Italian Judicial System to correct this error even when they have an eye witness to the crime, Rudy Guede, in custody compounds the error. Encouraging this perpetrator to resign his original arrest statement in favor of one implicating Knox & Sollecito and thereby cutting his 30 year sentence in half makes the Italian Judiciary party to the crime.

  • Rebekah:

    I suggest You read Barbie Nadeau’s book “Angel Face” as well. It may give you further insight.

  • Dan:

    Skip Barbie Nadeau’s book. That writer is guilty of all the same problems this article criticizes and then some. Nadeau’s coverage of the case was shockingly poor and included such basic errors of fact that even a cursory attempt to confirm the information would have shown it to be false.

  • The English translation of Judge Massei’s sentencing report can be downloaded from here:

    //www.perugiamurderfile.org/viewtopic.php?p=53735

  • Steve Graham:

    Thanks Harry

  • Paul:

    By all means read the sentencing report–it’s the best thing the defense has going for it. You will go to the Massei report looking for a smoking gun. You will end up being outraged and thinking it is the biggest intellectual embarrassment you have ever seen.

    Then go and read Amanda’s and Raffaele’s appeals documents. They are devastating to the prosecution.

  • christie:

    There was actually a video of Amanda and Sollecito in the shop the morning she bought new underwear; I saw this video, here in Italy, which included audio. This was not fabricated. She was completely without remorse and was joking with Sollecito, in front to the sales clerk, about they sexy/sexual plans she had planned for him later. I am an American professor of mass media and I followed the events very closely. In terms of the Italian media being much more ‘limited,’ journalists in Italy/Europe provide facts, but also analysis and insight, wheras in the States, the striving for ‘objective’ journalism–simply providing statements from opposing parties without going any deeper–can make it difficult for readers to arrive at the ‘truth.’ News coverage was sensational in the States as well, and the news media only became interested in the case after Knox was sentenced. Libby Purves, writing for the New York Times, said “both evidence and reconstruction look pretty convincing” and described the American [media]campaign for Amanda Knox as “almost libellously critical of the Italian court”.

    • Susanna:

      I think you are mistaken about the video, Christie: There was no audi. The shopkeeper told police that he had overheard Amanda and Rafaelle talking, but he did not speak English, so how could he have understood? Whatever audio you remember was not Amanda and Rafaelle speaking–must have been Italian news voice-over.

    • Susanna:

      I think you are mistaken about the video, Christie: There was no audio. The shopkeeper told police that he had overheard Amanda and Rafaelle talking, but he did not speak English, so how could he have understood? Whatever audio you remember was not Amanda and Rafaelle speaking–must have been Italian news voice-over.

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking: www.grahamdefense.com
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