I thoroughly recommend the new documentary Amanda Knox to anyone interested in either human nature or the role of the media – which should include most of us. Here is the chance to hear the main protagonists tell their stories. Don’t be put off by the lukewarm reviews. Journalists don’t much like this film because it reveals so much about how journalism works – and it isn’t pretty.
The man feeding the media monster in the Knox case was Giuliano Mignini, the local prosecutor. He shifts uneasily in his chair as he justifies a series of poor decisions that led to Knox and boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito’s wrongful incarceration for four years for the murder of Meredith Kercher. Mignini gives every impression of being a man whose rigid Catholic upbringing left him easily persuaded that life is a struggle between good and evil, innocence and depravity. Knox did not conform to his idea of a good girl, so she had to be punished.
But more fascinating still is Nick Pisa, the Daily Mail’s thoroughly repellent reporter. His interview, in which he revels in his discredited scoops, suggests a man who lacks even the faintest trace of empathy. Here is an individual who dwells entirely on the surface. If there is a monster in this tale (aside from the real murderer, Rudy Guede), it is Pisa.
Following the film’s release, Pisa has found himself caught up in a twitter storm of disapproval for his ugly behaviour. Most of the outrage, however, misses the mark.
It would be profoundly mistaken to blame Pisa for casting Knox as a cartoon villain. Pisa – and the many other reporters who wrote similar lurid tales about Knox – did not dupe their editors. They provided a service that their media outlets desperately wanted.
Pisa was selected by the Daily Mail editors to cover the Knox story for two reasons: he spoke fluent Italian and they were confident that a man of his low scruples would produce the exciting copy they needed. He did not fail in his job by misrepresenting the Knox case; he succeeded gloriously in “monetising” Knox for his paper. That is why he continues to look so self-satisfied, despite ruining the lives of two innocent people.
There are many thousands of Nick Pisas in our newsrooms. Like a pack of baying dogs, every media outlet chased after the same false scent: of a femme fatale at the centre of a deadly sex game. Liberal media adopted the more restrained tone their readers expected, but they were just as excitable, just as aroused by the prospect of cashing in on Knox.
The Knox story is not an aberration. These misrepresentations happen every day in our media and in relation to far more vital issues. Not least we see a similar process unfolding in the corporate media’s efforts to create another cartoon villain, this time of Britain’s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and those who support him.
This is essentially about money too. Corbyn is seen by the wealthy elite that run our societies as a threat to a system they have created over many decades to ensure their permanent enrichment, and their innoculation against the consequences of failure (remember those bank bailouts). The media is one branch of this corporate power structure – its public relations wing if you like. Its primary job is not to depict the world as it really is but to construct a set of illusions that will keep us docile, uninformed and intermittently baying for blood – not the blood of those who cheat and abuse us daily, but of unfortunates like Amanda Knox.