In a few days, Amanda Knox will be either set free or ordered to remain in jail, from where she will most certainly file another, final appeal against her murder conviction. Whatever the Italian appellate judge and jury decide to do with her and her onetime boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, one thing will remain unchanged: people living in three different countries already have reached very different verdicts on her, and the reason for that has less to do with what really happened on the night of Nov. 1, 2007, when Meredith Kercher was murdered in Perugia, and everything to do with the media.
In the U.S., Knox is the victim of a judicial system gone awry. That is the way her family has portrayed her in countless interviews with American television outlets over the past four years. The courting of the family by American network producers involved generally favorable coverage. After all, why would Amanda's parents, her stepparents and her friends volunteer to appear on any program that painted her as an "angel-faced she-devil," to borrow a phrase from the prosecution? That long courtship is about to bear fruit. Producers are in a tense bidding war with the family for the biggest get of all, the prize upon which all have fixed their eyes since the earliest days of this tabloid tale: an interview with Knox herself.
But while Knox's family from suburban Seattle got sympathy from U.S. journalists, they initially failed to understand that they needed to take their message to Italy and the U.K. The Seattle p.r. firm they hired to control coverage gave rise to a myth that a massively funded American publicity campaign was under way to spring a guilty girl from jail.
That did her little good in Britain, the murdered Kercher's homeland. There, Knox is the exchange-student version of Casey Anthony. She is an all-American psychopath with a pretty face masking a liar and a killer. The U.K.'s tabloid reporters, operating in a print-media industry that is more robust than the U.S.'s, with many more tabloid newspapers and thus more competition, stoked the "Foxy Knoxy" story for all it was worth. One of them published a picture of a bathroom Knox showered in before her roommate's body was discovered. All the walls appeared to be smeared with blood. No one ever explained that the redness of the walls was the result of a crime-scene-investigation chemical, which turns pink, that Italian police had sprayed on the walls.
American and British journalists theoretically operate in similar fashion; freedom of the press is, after all, an Anglo-Saxon invention. But a chief difference between the two styles of journalism (besides the illegal hacking of phones) is that British reporters often pay for interviews, while in the U.S., paying for interviews is considered journalistic malpractice. Since the Kercher murder was so sensational and the stakes for newspaper sales in the millions, huge sums were available for interviews. Reporters didn't even broker the biggest deals themselves; high-powered London agents did it for them.
The U.K. tabs' biggest get was Patrick Lumumba, Knox's former boss at a Perugia bar, the man Knox originally told police was in the house where the crime took place. (The testimony was taken during a night of police interrogation that she now claims was extracted under duress.) Lumumba took a high five-figure sum for a London tabloid interview, parts of which were picked up elsewhere and became part of the narrative of the case. In that account, Knox was described as jealous of Kercher; Lumumba said his own wife had decided that Knox was untrustworthy based on one interaction with her; the accused also was said to flirt with customers at the bar; Lumumba also suggested that he might have been ready to fire Knox and put Kercher in her job. However, when Lumumba talked with me for my book for free he retracted nearly every word of it.
Both the American and British print media had a field day cherry-picking through a "prison diary" that the compulsively journalizing Knox filled with her rounded handwriting and blithe musings during her first month in prison and that authorities released to the media. Reporters selected bits of text in which she remarked on fan mail she was receiving from Italian men, ignoring page after page of description about a menacing jail guard repeatedly asking her if she was "good at sex" or "dreamed about sex."