Trial by Media: The Story of Amanda Knox 

Credit: US Weekly

Netflix’s documentary, Amanda Knox, depicts a deeper explanation into the murder of Meredith Kercher, and provides a clear argument for the innocence of Amanda Knox. The documentary makers implement various rhetorical techniques to state their position on the case. The scene is set as follows: while on a study abroad program in Italy, Amanda’s roommate Meredith Kercher is brutally murdered, her throat slit, and the police believe that the evidence points to the involvement of both Amanda Knox and her then boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito. With pressure from global media outlets to name a suspect, the Italian police move to convict the aforementioned parties. 

Amanda Knox relies heavily on a combination of two rhetorical approaches; pathos, to emotionally sway the audience by asking them to place themselves in Amanda’s shoes, and logos in the form of newspaper articles that frame Knox as the “sexual deviant” of a woman who murdered Ms. Kercher. To sway the audience into rooting for Amanda Knox, the documentary focuses on the emotional and physical trials that Ms. Knox was put through. At one point, Amanda shares that one officer repeatedly slapped her upside the head and told her to “Remember!”, another scene shows the officers involved manipulated Ms. Knox into believing that her texts had a different meaning, coercing her into questioning her own credibility.

Amanda Knox also implements the use of rhetorical logos over the course of the ninety-two-minute film. The documentary discusses the idea that Knox’s conviction and trial would fall under what some would call the realm of “trial by media”. The phrase is defined as, “…the impact of television and newspaper coverage on a person’s reputation by creating a widespread perception of guilt or innocence before, or after, a verdict in a court of law” (TransLegal). Amanda Knox seeks to highlight and call attention to these incidents of persecution performed on Ms. Knox by the media outlets covering the case. They (media outlets) conducted coverage that spread false information and rumors that discredited the innocence and credibility of those accused. The press created a false image of Amanda Knox, painting her as a sexually deviant individual. Because justice was so actively sought for Meredith Kercher, the media applied pressure to have someone wrongly convicted because of how she was publicly portrayed. Her persona was manipulated by media coverage, turning Amanda Knox from a quirky, twenty-something year old into the individual that the media coined “Foxy Knoxy” the cult leading killer. That is to say, the way in which journalists and newscasts delivered the information about this case to the public invited backlash and outbursts towards Amanda Knox. In the end, the role of the media in this case is extremely concerning because not only did they tarnish Knox’s reputation but influenced the belief that she was guilty of the crime, with minimal amount of evidence presented.

Nick Pisa, a freelance journalist of the Daily Mail, is one of the key interviewees of this documentary that portrays how the media can wrongly distort a narrative for their own interest of publishing a story that sells. Pisa first mentions that in order to gather a good story, “the first thing you need to do is get to the main players. “Cause obviously to get the facts, you’ve gotta be on the scene really.” Also, he states that he would get alongside one of the lawyers who would hand him over the statements, which is then followed by footage of him conversing with Guilanio Mignini, the prosecutor in Amanda’s case. With all of the details he received from lawyers, Pisa was able to construct a narrative of the crime that he defined as follows: “We already had good pictures of Meredith. She [Meredith] was a terribly attractive woman. And now we’ve got Amanda Knox involved as well. Pretty blonde girl [Amanda], 20-something. It had that sexual intrigue. [chuckles] Girl-on-girl crime, if you like.” Following this, Pisa mentions the different headlines he published from time to time with this story he concocted that described Amanda such as, “Sex-crazed, she-devil, Femme Fatale, La Dominatrice, Amanda the man-eater, etc.” Pisa even went as far as obtaining Amanda’s MySpace handle at the time “Foxy Knoxy” because in his personal opinion, “It was a perfect headline, really, the perfect name. It was a feeding frenzy for everyone. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many front pages.”

Towards the end of the documentary, however, it is revealed that the evidence found in the case was too inconsistent to incriminate Amanda, which became an issue for journalists who had already published information without being certain that it was accurate. Pisa, in regards to that, mentions, “I think now, looking back, some of the information that came out was just crazy, really, and just completely made up. 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, ‘Right hold on a minute. I just wanna double check that myself in some other way’.” This is concerning because Pisa admits to not double-checking information prior to publishing stories about Amanda and defends his argument with “we are journalists, and we are reporting what we are being told.” However, that statement is contradicting his previous statement where he mentions, “you need to get to the main players…cause’ obviously to get to the facts”, because not only did he not obtain the facts surrounding the case at all, but he also did not double-check if he had any facts in general. This type of media coverage, therefore, stoked the narrative of Amanda Knox by painting her as a sexual and murderous woman in the eyes of the public and tarnished her reputation in the process.

Another issue presented within the documentary, besides the media’s involvement, is the Italian justice system and whether or not they were capable of handling this case. The documentary seems to put an emphasis on the distinction between American and foreign countries’ treatment of cases and evidence found. There is an obvious hostility that is drawn to attention by an interview with Raffaele Sollecito’s defence attorney who complains about America’s involvement and judgement once the case went to court in Italy. Essentially it became the Italian police versus the American media who ran with countless stories of the forensic failures surrounding the case. There are multiple interviews within the film with different doctors who were asked to re-examine the DNA traces found during the first appeal. One of the doctors, Dr. Stephano said that there were multiple issues with the forensic evidence, one being that the crime scene was not sterile and that the majority of forensic police were coming and going without the proper suits and not changing their gloves. 

Another specialist, Dr. Carla Vecchiotti, even brought up the specific evidence of the bra clasp that was found forty six days after the investigation began, and it was underneath a bath mat where it could have collected countless tracks of DNA. Dr. Vecchiotti makes a point in saying that, “DNA must be observed objectively, you can’t interpret it for what you want it to be.” This quote points towards the larger issue within the documentary that is the possible failure within investigations. Especially in this case with the Italian police, the filmmakers make sure to point out the excitement and rushed nature of the police’s investigation due to their wanting to hurry up and solve the case. They even point out that after the first conviction, the town that the murder took place in had a parade to celebrate. Amanda Knox herself points out in the film, although we do not get to see visual evidence, that she was led on and pressured to give answers to questions that she did not know the answer to through emotional and/or physical abuse and manipulation. They were so eager to place the blame and reap in the glory that the investigation left out information and forced evidence to fit their narrative. 

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