Knox is free, thanks (or no thanks?) to the media

by David Alm on October 4, 2011

In early 2008, I read a disturbing story of young lust and murderous rage, fueled by alcohol one late night, that left a 21-year-old woman dead in Perugia, Italy. I read about the murderers: an attractive couple in their early 20s, who looked like any clean-cut college students you’d see on any campus in the U.S. The evidence, as it was reported, was damning: Amanda Knox and her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, had brutally stabbed Meredith Kercher in a sex game gone bad.

For almost four years, I have followed the Amanda Knox story. Not because I love stories of murder, but because not long after I read that initial report, I read another one that gave an entirely different gloss on the whole situation. In that article, Knox was the victim of a barbaric legal system that refused to admit fault, despite nearly irrefutable evidence that she was not the killer at all, but a sweet and spirited college student. The real killer, allegedly, was an African drifter named Rudy Guede.

Both articles appeared in the same newspaper, the New York Times, written by American journalists.

Presented with such radically opposed treatments of the story, I was hooked on the case — not just because I became convinced of Knox’s innocence, but because I wanted to see how coverage of the story changed and evolved over time.

Before long, the American media settled on a position of “Amanda Knox, wrongfully imprisoned, victim of Italian injustice,” while the Italian media was far less charitable. But I never forgot that initial article in the Times, and I wondered if anyone else following the story had experienced the same flip of conviction that I had.

It’s largely because the American media would not leave the story alone that Knox received as much support as she did. Indeed, her acquittal on Monday would likely never have happened if c overage had been different over the past four years, or worse, nonexistent. Which leads me to a question about the media: was it irresponsible of the Times to lead readers down a path from which the paper would ultimately retreat? Or was the Times merely reporting what seemed true at the moment ?

The answers to those questions are “no” and “yes,” respectively. And that’s okay. But as the Knox story shows, we must be skeptical in reading the news, but we must read, and we must continue to read as stories develop. Truth changes. Things are rarely as they seem.

Crista Cloutier October 7, 2011 at 2:24 am

I too followed the story after reading an article in Vanity Fair. That story was pretty damning against Knox and her boyfriend. I left it feeling convinced of their guilt. Subsequent articles have swayed me to and fro. American readers don’t like to think that their white middle class girls could play sex games that end in murder, and perhaps it was the readers and not the papers who changed the tone of the news reports. But at the end of the day, we are a society that holds the value “innocent until proven guilty.” And that proof just doesn’t seem to be there. Doesn’t mean she’s innocent, but that the Italian police failed. And Meredith Kercher still deserves her own story to be told.

David Alm October 7, 2011 at 6:46 am

I’d like to read that Vanity Fair piece now, and see how it reads after all that’s come to pass. And I agree that Knox’s image was largely scrubbed clean because of public outcry. There was fascinating article in the Times the day after I posted this blog, describing the PR effort of the Knox family to transform their daughter from the femme fatale “she-devil” into the sweet and innocent kid who’d been wrongfully convicted. It made me realize just how little we’ll ever truly know about her or this case, and while I remain convinced of her innocence, the fact that she is only free because of shifting coverage and public sentiment raises all kinds of issues. Besides, what of all the people with brown skin, in prisons on American soil, who also did not commit, or may not have committed, the crimes for which they are being punished? No one is fighting for them because, as you say, Americans don’t like to think about white middle-class girls being murderers. Brown-skinned people, especially if they’re from bad neighborhoods or have a rap sheet already, do not get such charitable treatment. Regardless of whether Knox is innocent or guilty, if it was merely her race, prettiness, and the efforts of a PR team that freed her, that’s a problem.

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