On November 1 2007, 21-year-old British student Meredith Kercher was murdered in her bedroom in Perugia, Italy. Five days later, her American roommate Amanda Knox was arrested along with her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. Three days after her arrest, Knox's father hired Seattle publicist David Marriott, of Gogerty Marriott Public Relations Inc. This was, according to Curt Knox, "one of the smartest things we ever did."
When Knox was painted as a manipulative sexual deviant by certain parts of the press, Gogerty Marriott was tasked with altering public sentiment. The information coming in from Perugia was painstakingly filtered while an Italian smear-campaign was cultivated. No American journalists were given access to the Knox family without guarantees of positive coverage. Thus, Knox was turned from promiscuous schemer to naïve college girl, railroaded by ruthless Italians driven by their consuming hatred for anything American.
You have to hand it to them -- Gogerty Marriott has done a pretty good job. Though by no means unanimous, support for Knox in the U.S. media remains relatively high, with the same tired, easily disproven arguments still thrown around in the news. Favourites include the remarkable claim that "there's no evidence" (incorrect), that Knox's false accusation of her employer came only after hours of abuse (false), and that the "drifter" Rudy Guede confessed to the murder and acted alone, only implicating Knox after being offered a plea deal (fabricated).
What's troubling about this is the intensity of the deceit. It's one thing to drum up support by having friends and family talk about the 'real' Knox; it's quite another to knowingly hawk appalling untruths and propagate them through the media. In the face of recent and important case developments, much of the U.S. media remains curiously silent.
In July, Knox's connection to a Perugian cocaine ring was made public. According to police reports from 2008, Knox had a sexual relationship with a cocaine dealer and contacted him in the days before and after Kercher's murder. In a case where sex and drug use are so contentious, one might imagine this was noteworthy, but the mainstream media in the U.S. were silent.
Considerable time, effort and money has gone into portraying Knox as a wholesome girl-next-door and Sollecito, a shy, well-behaved doctor's son. Stories that threaten to shatter these carefully constructed PR images are just brushed under the carpet.
In a case that hinges on a staged burglary, how many U.S. publications reported on Knox's own damning admission this year that she faked a break-in in Seattle months before leaving for Perugia? How many reported on her previous encounter with police -- or Sollecito's for that matter? How many dared to mention Sollecito's obsession with knives, alleged encounters with bestiality porn or admiration for a serial killer? Members of Sollecito's family recently stated on Italian TV that they think Knox may be guilty -- key information that again was stifled in the U.S.
Another recent example shows the remarkable extent of the media blackout in Knox's hometown of Seattle. In July Sollecito held a press conference in which he withdrew his alibi for Knox, remarked on the inconsistencies in her account and disputed her testimony in crucial places. The story was covered across the world, with headlines such as "Sollecito withdraws Knox alibi for night of Kercher murder."
The Seattle Times interpreted this press conference quite differently. Their coverage was titled "Amanda Knox's ex-beau: Evidence points to my innocence" and inexplicably made no mention of Sollecito's alibi withdrawal. Whatever your stance on guilt or innocence, this is an outrageous concealment of vital information.
At the recent appeal resulting in the reinstating of the guilty convictions, the reporting in the U.S. media was woefully -- and intentionally -- inaccurate. Time and again the appeal was called a "third trial", the insinuation being that vindictive Italians would simply try Knox until they got the result they wanted.
How shamefully misleading this is. There has only ever been one trial: this "new trial" was Knox and Sollecito's own appeal. Italy affords defendants more rights than nearly any other country; how galling it is to see the reverse so often construed.
It isn't just Knox's heavyweight PR team who are proliferating these untruths -- Knox herself is at it too. She recently wrote on her own website:
"Raffaele Sollecito and I have happy, healthy histories and no criminal record. Rudy Guede was an orphan turned drug dealer and burglar."
Unfortunately for Knox, Guede is not an orphan. His parents are divorced, just like hers are. Guede too had no criminal record or history of violence. There is not a single piece of evidence to suggest that he was a drug dealer, and not a single witness who has come forward to substantiate this. This "drifter" (a term coined by Gogerty Marriott) had lived in Perugia since the age of five and had his own apartment. The very idea of Guede being the sole killer is utterly implausible, and the Supreme Court ruled that Kercher was killed by multiple attackers.
Emerging through the thick smoke spewed from the PR machine, we can see that the 'real' Guede was not so different from the 'real' Knox or Sollecito. Guede was no more a delinquent drifter than Knox was a sexual deviant, and no more immersed in the seedy drug world than either defendant. All three had had minor brushes with the law, but only one was ever portrayed as a criminal.
Contrary to sensationalist reporting, this is not a case about sex or drugs or Satanism -- this is a case about controlling and manipulating image. How much easier it is to manipulate your image when you have the power to control it. How much easier it is to blame a 'black drug dealing drifter with a criminal record' than to face unsettling truths.
Seven years is a long time to go without closure, but that is what the Kerchers have had to endure as they fight for justice for their daughter and sister. But there can be no justice without truth. When a defence is based on lies it is both immoral and incriminating. For the sake of the truth, it is time for the wilfull concealment of certain inconvenient facts to stop. Once you step away from the PR spin, the evidence is there. You may just need to sift through a lot of nonsense to get to it.
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