By Marcella Gallace
It was the murder case that created headlines across the world. On November 1, 2007, Meredith Kercher, a British exchange student, was found murdered in her shared apartment in Perugia, Italy. Within days Kercher’s American flatmate, Amanda Knox, and her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, were arrested by Italian police “in conncetion with the slaying.” The story picked up worldwide press coverage due to the cases international links – an American student accused of killing her British roommate in Italy. Media attention became particularly prominent in both England and America, where two divergent lines of focus emerged.
While the British media shone the spotlight on Knox, painting her as a villainous “she-devil” and “two-faced”, US media directed their attention to Italy’s flawed jurisdiction system. Analysis of the coverage shows the media from each country had an agenda outside of simply reporting the facts. The British media were motivated by the fact that the murdered woman, Kercher, was one of their own, and the American’s were picking the Italian legal system to shreds in an attempt to exonerate (one of) the accused, Knox.
Kercher, 21, had moved to Perugia in 2007 in order to complete her final year of university via an exchange program from Leeds University. When her body was discovered she had been raped and her throat slit. Knox, 20 at the time, and Sollecito, were eventually sentenced to Kercher’s murder on December 4, 2009 for 26 and 25 years respectively. However, due to a lack of physical evidence linking them to the murder they were freed two years later. A third man, Rudy Guede, was also sentenced in 2009 and remains convicted.
This analysis will look at US and British media coverage that the case received up until the “guilty” verdict and will analyse how the media from each country attempted to construe a particular perspective of Knox, and the case.
When the story first broke Knox was quickly painted as a “party-girl” with an “appetite for drink, drugs and sex” by the British media, who often referred to her as “Foxy Knoxy”, a nickname she was given in her teens. The term “Foxy Knoxy” is often misconstrued by the public as referring to Knox as ‘foxy’ as in cunning, sly and/or sexually appealing. The British media knowingly encouraged this by attaching the nickname to such descriptions as: “Foxy Knoxy”; uncaring, sexually rapacious and eager for a taste of life on the wild side,” when in reality her “soccer tricks had earned her a grade school nickname of “Foxy Knoxy,” as outlined by the New York Times, Timothy Egan.
Andrew Malone’s article, “The wild, raunchy past of Foxy Knoxy,” which was published in the Daily Mail on December 3, 2007, featured a still image showing Knox and Sollecito kissing outside the house where Kercher’s body still lay. This image was widely used in worldwide coverage of the event because it was viewed as “strange behaviour.”
Malone used the image (left) to emphasise Knox’s odd and “emotionless” behaviour towards Kercher’s death. The image construes Knox, more so than Sollecito, in a negative light, due to the relationship she shared with the victim. This behaviour was what first lead Italian police to suspect Knox was involved in the murder and would go on to be repeatedly used by the media, to construct a villainous image of the American.
Malone begins his article with an anecdote about a Seattle police officer who receives a “house disturbance call,” due to a party. The officer went to the location.
“He later told colleagues it was like a scene from Baghdad. Gangs of students, high on drink and drugs, were hurling rocks into the road. Cars were swerving to avoid them… Police made only one arrest: the person they held responsible for the party and the disorder. Her name? Amanda Knox.”
Malone introduces Knox to the audience through this anecdote, where the first mention of her name is attached to an uncontrollable drug fuelled party and an “arrest”. He uses implicit language to conjure an image of Knox as wild, irresponsible and dangerous.
He refers to Knox as having developed “what her friends describe as a “double life,” where she was viewed as a “model pupil by teachers, excelling at sport, English and joined the school choir.” Malone contrasts this behaviour to a darker version of Knox, who after leaving home to study in Italy was given the “opportunity to break free and rebel – with disastrous consequences.” However, his argument is flawed; which “friends” described her as living a “double life”? He provides no names, nor relationship information (university, school or family friends), questioning the reliability and truth behind this assertion, which again attempts to damage Knox’s reputation with “evidence” of an alter ego.
Articles related to the case became more and more focused on Knox’s character and personality, greatly emphasising her “wild, raunchy past”. This image of Knox was already generated by the pre-trial hearings, which began in Perugia on September 19, 2008. Starting with tabloid newspapers, reporting became more sensationalised using offences as “Amanda Knox is a ‘diabolic sex-obsessed she devil” and “Secret Diary reveals Foxy Knoxy as was ‘always thinking about sex” in their headlines.
Malone’s article largely focused on Knox’s past sexual encounters in order to portray her as erratic and sexually enthusiastic. Why? Because Kercher died after being forced into a “drug-fuelled sex game.”
“Within hours of arriving in Rome, Knox e-mailed a former Washington University student, writing excitedly of having sex with a stranger on a train,” and apparently “the steady stream of men she brought home caused tensions between the English girl and herself,” Malone said.
She also “cultivated cannabis plants” at her Perguian apartment, smoking her “first joint before she dressed in the morning.”
Malone portrays Knox as a sex-crazed drug addict – someone who is not in a fit mental state and who conforms the general public’s perception of a person capable of murder. Malone explicitly suggests that Knox’s behaviour caused “tension” between the girls and that they weren’t on good terms. However, once again Malone provides no reliable evidence to back up his claims.
The British media’s focus on Knox’s “abnormal” character was designed to fuel the perspective that Knox was evil. It encouraged many to believe Knox had no emotions towards the death of her friend, insinuating that a girl, who enjoys smoking cannabis and casual sex, also has it in her to commit murder. It should also be noted that no tangible evidence connected Knox or Sollecito to the murder scene; hence they were both cleared of murder on October 3, 2011. Despite this, the British media still managed to depict Knox as a murderer without any proof, possibly in seek of some sort of justice towards their Brit, Ketcher.
In comparison to some of the headlines in the British media, US headlines read along the line of “An Innocent Abroad“, “Is Amanda Knox Being Punished for Being American?“ and “Student on Trial in Italy Claims Police Pressure”. Already there is a clear division between British and US media coverage, which insists on Knox’s innocence by way of scathing attack of the Italian legal system.
Timothy Ethan’s article, “An Innocent Abroad,” published on The New York Times on June 10, 2009 introduces Knox as an “American student named “Angel Face”, which implies Knox is as innocent as an angel and has been wrongly caught up in the murder. This is the exact opposite of the image that Malone presented of Knox; nevertheless each author is obviously biased. Ethan explicitly takes a dig at the Italian legal system:
“The case against Knox has so many holes in it, and is so tied to the career of a powerful Italian prosecutor who is under indictment for professional misconduct, that any fair-minded jury would have thrown it out months ago.”
“Knox and Sollecito were arrested in large part because of what they said under duress by interrogation of the prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini. After being questioned all night without an attorney or a professional translator, Knox said some things in response to a series of hypothetical questions. This was initially trumpeted as a contradiction, or worst – a confession.”
Ethan blames the Italian legal system for their “slipslop prosecution… the railroad job from hell,” in order to portray Knox as a victim caught up in the murder case due to Mignini. This emphasise on the Italian jurisdiction system as flawed presents a different perspective of Knox, from that of Malone and British publications. Like Malone, Ethan has also cast a villain in the murder trial, that is, the Italian legal system which he uses to portray Knox as a victim of a flawed system in order to gain the readers sympathy.
It is clear that the media in Britain and the US covered this murder case with alternative motivations. Britain wanted to find and condemn someone responsible for the horrific murder of their fellow Brit. Knox’s “strange” behaviour; “her femaleness, her Americaness, and her beauty” made her an easy target. US media on the other hand worked hard to construct the image of Knox as a helpless American student stuck in a foreign country and the victim of a flawed justice system. In both cases, the media had an agenda; media coverage was not based on facts, but unsupported claims and each author’s opinion.