If you don’t follow the U.S. election that closely — the case for a lot more people than you might think — your understanding of the candidates might be summed up by a few of the news headlines that have stuck with you: Hillary’s email scandal, Donald Trump’s wall, Donald Trump’s sexist statements, Mexicans are rapists, The Deplorables, pneumonia, and Donald Trump didn’t pay his taxes. For a good portion of the electorate, those headlines will form the basis of their opinion when it comes time to pull the lever for a candidate, and it’s likely that they don’t even have a clear understanding of those issues.
I mention this because my understanding of the Amanda Knox case was similarly cursory until I watched Netflix’s documentary, Amanda Knox. I didn’t follow the case in the late 2000s. I couldn’t even have said for sure whether she had been convicted or not before watching the documentary (in reality, she was both convicted and acquitted). My understanding of the case was limited to what I picked up by osmosis, probably from tabloid headlines and the reverberations of Nancy Grace’s voice around the world, which is to say that what I thought I understood was that an attractive exchange student went to Italy, got involved in a lot of orgies, and killed her roommate as a part of a sex game with her hot Italian boyfriend.
This is not even close to what happened, but that’s the picture that our tabloid-driven culture painted, and it’s the picture that the Italian jury had when they convicted Amanda Knox for the murder of Meredith Kercher in 2009 and sentenced her to 26 years in prison.
In reality, when you separate the tabloid headlines from the case, there was next to no evidence implicating Knox in the murder of Kercher, and a ton of evidence suggesting that Rudy Guede did. In fact, even when it became apparent that the evidence implicated Guede beyond a reasonable doubt, the police and the prosecution drummed up a tabloid-friendly narrative that suggested that Knox and her boyfriend killed Kercher along with Guede as a part of a threesome gone wrong.
What was the basis for initially convicting Knox? Basically, that she was an attractive American female who had sex with men and didn’t react the way a roommate is supposed to react to the murder of her roommate (who she only knew for a few weeks). What about actual evidence? Well, that was in short supply. There was a coerced confession that came after hours of denials and some physical abuse, and a knife found in the apartment of Knox’s boyfriend that had both Knox’s and Kercher’s DNA on it, although the knife was tested along with all of Kercher’s other DNA tests, so it would’ve been very easy for the DNA of Kercher’s other belongings to get on the knife.
In other words, there was very little evidence, and the scant evidence they had was tainted. That didn’t stop our media-driven culture from indicting Knox. It didn’t stop a jury from convicting Knox, either. It was only after the conviction was overturned on appeal, reinstated again on another appeal, and finally overturned by the Italy’s highest court last year that Knox was finally free of this mess, having also spent a considerable amount of that time in prison.
The documentary is eye-opening, not exactly in the way that Making a Murderer and Serial were (although, there is some of that, too), but in investigating the influence the media had on the trial. One of the central characters of the documentary, in fact, is Daily Mail journalist Nick Pisa who brags about how he generated the story based, in part, on unverifiable statements. Pisa had no interest in the truth. He was only interested in his own celebrity.
“A murder always gets people going. Bit of intrigue, big of mystery, a whodunit…What more do you want in a story? To see your name on the front page with a great story that everyone’s talking about … it’s just like this fantastic buzz. It’s like having sex or something.”
Pisa and other “journalists” also took innocent pictures of Knox and provided their own titillating, sensational context, facts and reality be damned. And when they actually found the man who murdered Kercher, the press didn’t follow that story because it “wasn’t as interesting,” nor was the press that interested in reporting on the DNA evidence that exonerated Knox, because a guilty Knox sold more papers.
It’s a fascinating and maddening documentary, all the more so because my own previous knowledge of the case proves how effective the media can be in creating the narrative, even when that narrative has no basis in reality. Amanda Knox sets the record straight.