Netflix has another hit on its hands with the true-crime documentary Amanda Knox, which premiered on Sept 30. The 90-minute film rehashes the gruesome 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy, that played out on the international stage for nearly eight years. Amanda Knox and former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were finally acquitted of the murder in 2015 after numerous trials under a glaring media spotlight.
What the documentary does best is point the finger at the press for sensationalizing the crime and impacting the outcome of the trial. Take away the gross mishandling of the investigation, and you find a flagrant exploitation by the UK press that contributed significantly to the fever pitch of this scandal. The media is great at turning tragedies into spectacles: think JonBenét Ramsey, O.J. Simpson, and Casey Anthony, to name a few. Nick Pisa of the UK's Daily Mail represents the press in the film, and his statements prove the dangerous power they hold.
"What more do you want in a story than sex, murder, and fresh young faces?"
Pisa was one of the leading reporters on the Knox story and the first to refer to her as "Foxy Knoxy," a Myspace handle Knox once used and probably never wanted to hear again. He almost lovingly says Kercher's murder was a rousing tale involving sex, murder, and fresh young faces. He smiles to the camera and says, "What more do you want in a story?"
Salacious headlines quickly cross the screen, and you're reminded of all the terrible slut-shaming and devilish rumors cast onto Knox, who was characterized as a sex-loving woman.
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Knox was up against a British press that fostered a sensational media culture, and the murder happened before the News of the World phone-hacking scandals brought to light just how ruthless it could be. With Kercher being a UK citizen and Knox cast as the "she-devil" American, her story was ripped apart from day one.
The Daily Mail was definitely not the only outlet to exploit the case, but the tabloid with a daily readership of over 4.5 million led the charge. Pisa's comments in the documentary illustrate his complete lack of concern regarding the factual content of the reports he received from police that tied Knox and Sollecito to the crime with hardly any evidence.
"I think now, looking back, some of the information that came out was just crazy, really, and completely made up," he says. "But hey, what are we supposed to do, you know? We are journalists, and we are reporting what we are being told . . . It's not as if I can say, 'All right, hold on a minute, I just want to double-check that myself in some other way' . . . then I let my rival get in there before me. And hey, I've lost a scoop. It doesn't work like that. Not in the news game."
Is this really the state of the news game? Have the lines of reporting and entertainment become so blurred that fact-checking and informing the public is an afterthought?
Pisa's motivations seem to have little to do with standing for truth and justice, but rather more with a focus on fame and bylines. "To see your name on the front page with a great story that everyone's talking about . . . " he says. "It's just like this fantastic buzz. It's like having sex or something." The fact that a young woman spent four years of her life in jail thanks in part to his storytelling apparently fails to register.
You can't help but watch this documentary and understand that Knox was persecuted more harshly due to the press coverage and the waters of public opinion chummed up by the media. Knox's mother captures this in a recording from a visit with her daughter in jail saying that the murder had "turned into this huge international bullsh*t story."
Once your name becomes associated with a crime in the press, there's no getting your reputation back.
We still see this today. Sensational crime reporting has built a guilty-until-proven-innocent paradigm. Once your name becomes associated with a crime and is covered widely in the press, there's almost no getting your reputation back. Look no further than the current lawsuit against Rolling Stone by Nicole Eramo, an associate dean at the University of Virginia. Eramo is suing the magazine for implicating her in an article about a gang rape that was widely discredited for relying on the alleged victim's story without confirming any details and which was later taken down. There are real people behind these stories, and they are not just "hot commodities," as one reporter referred to Knox.
When you see Knox now living in a dreary little Seattle apartment with the cats walking all over the place while she cooks dinner, you can't help but feel sad for the life that was ruined. The Supreme Court of Italy pointed blame at the media when it finally acquitted Knox and Sollecito in 2015, saying that it created a "frantic search for one or more guilty parties" and that there was no hard evidence connecting the two to the murder.
We need to know that the news is still a staple for trustworthiness, fact-checking, and transparency; if we can't rely on journalistic standards and integrity given the digital age, any one of us could become the new Amanda Knox given the situation.
Knox sums it up best in the documentary. "There are those who believe in my innocence, and those who believe in my guilt. There's no in between. And if I am guilty, it means that I am the ultimate figure to fear, because I'm not the obvious one," she says. "But on the other hand, if I'm innocent, then everyone is vulnerable. Either I'm a psychopath in sheep's clothing, or I am you."