amanda-knox

There is no such thing as privacy to somebody in the public eye, that much has been made clear by the new Netflix documentary, Amanda Knox.  The case set a precedent for those in the media spotlight.

You are ours now. Your narrative is no longer your own. It will be exerted upon you, influenced by the thoughts and opinions of thousands of different people. Small facts about you will be cobbled together to form an image that will look slightly different to every one who looks at it.

Some, like Donald Trump, have managed to use this situation to their advantage, with the help of complete disregard for the public’s opinion. But Trump is an anomaly in this case, like he is in many others. To somebody who did not choose to receive the attention, it can be an absolute curse. You are no longer a person, but a property, who we view from the distance through screens and fiber optic cables. A ratings blessing, and a sweeps week godsend. As co-director Rod Blackhurst describes it, “A commodification of tragedy.”

For those not familiar, Amanda Knox was a nice, if a little strange, college girl from Seattle. In 2007, she decided to study abroad in Perugia, Italy. She lived with a charming British student, Meredith Kercher, in a quaint cottage in the hillside. Knox also met a boy, a nice Italian lad named Raffaele Sollecito. It was an experience of a lifetime. Until one morning when Amanda found her roommate Meredith stabbed to death in her bedroom. She and Raffaele were quickly arrested and thrust into a media spotlight the likes of which nobody was prepared for. As a result, she was the subject of pundit scrutiny for years and will probably continue to be so, in varying degrees, for the rest of her life.

In the documentary, the audience gets a first hand look at the 10-year jaunt Knox took through the Italian justice system, the American media circus, and the international spotlight. What’s interesting about the film is not only it’s presentation, but it’s perspective.

At the recent press conference, Amanda Knox filmmaker Rod Blackhurst, who spent five years making the film, explained, “Well, when you see cases like this play out in the media, its from the outside looking in. It’s from all these secondary people coming to judgments and conclusions… Few times do you hear from people at the heart of these stories.”

“So we needed to get to the people at the heart of it” added co-director Brian McGinn. “We started to kind of think about a first person story told from… the people who were at the core of the trail itself and building outwards from there.” And that’s exactly what they did. Knox stares directly into the camera and tells you what happened, in her own words. It is a bold move, but a necessary one. Knox’s story has been told by many others much more than it had been told by her.

This issue of an applied narrative is something the filmmakers go out of their way to discuss. In our post-Kardashian world, it’s important to remember there are actually people who do not want to be famous. In Knox’s case, her accidental celebrity was the result of, presumably, the worst experience of her life. She was struck by police as they coerced a confession out of her. The prison medical staff filed a false report that she tested positive for HIV, and corrected their mistake only after it was leaked to the media. In total, she spent four years in an Italian prison.

Knox is a little bit of an odd bird, which made her an easy target. Pundits, commentators, and anchors tore apart her sexual history and medical records, in addition to brutal over-analysis of her awkward court appearances – hotly debating things as abstract as her sincerity during cross examination. Her narrative was no longer her own – it was that of the people’s, told by the people and for the people. At least a certain kind of people.

It’s worth noting that this is during the time of social media’s meteoric rise. In 2007 and 2008 the country was just getting used to this thing called Facebook. As such, the world of journalism was in an upheaval. Because of the instantaneous connection the internet provided, companies began shorting their funding of over sea’s correspondents.

Enter journalists such as Nick Pisa, whose interviews provide the press’ sole voice in the film. Pisa freelanced for both tabloid and hard news organizations and led the charge on Amanda Knox. He and his cohorts identified their reader’s inherent attraction to drama and tailored their stories to meet that curiosity.

They teased out details of Amanda and Raffael’s relationship, leading them to claim the murder was the result of a “drug fueled sex game.” Reporters got their hands on a journal she kept while imprisoned, which included a list of all the men she had slept with. It was published with glee. Her MySpace was even unearthed when it was discovered the page was emblazed with the user name Foxy Knoxy. What a perfect name for a cunning murderess. While these topics garnered more airtime and page inches, things like the discovery of new evidence or a ruling by the judge were left behind.

Pisa serves as the prime example of journalism run awry. “We see the system that Nick is emblematic of playing out today even more so than ever.” Blackhurst said about the reporter, who equated seeing his name under headlines to having sex. “We’ve turned so far away from…trying to get to an understanding or to the objective facts that exist at the heart of the story in favor of predominantly presenting stories as click bait or entertainment or a way to get people on the hook.”

Today, in the Year of The Donald, it appears that the flashy reporting during the Knox case was merely the prepubescent version of the current journalistic landscape. This irony was not lost on the directors, who went so far as to include a clip of Trump, true to form, threatening to boycott Italy if they do not release Amanda.

The parallels between Trump and Knox do not stop at a sound bite. They are both products of the press’ affinity for gossip. Knox is a victim of it, her narrative being pressed upon her at the hands of others. Trump is encouraged by it, tossing reporters a few ingredients and letting them cook up whatever they may. In our 24-hour news cycle, it takes a lot to grab people’s attention, but anger is always a surefire way to do that. As consumers, rage allows us to experience some kind of perverse rush that sucks us into whatever article or video is on our screen. Trump seems to have caught on that he can provide that rush, and we continue to tune in and grant him our attention. Unfortunately, attention now equates to power. He takes those views and clicks and outraged comments and turns them into something productive: a political campaign. And a successful one at that.

But where does journalistic integrity lie in all of this? Some have criticized the media’s enabling of the GOP candidate. The writer James Fallows is so blown away with Trump’s campaign that he has started a blog on the Atlantic’s website that serves as a historical document of the “evidence available to voters as they make their choices.” A record like this would be able to serve as a primary source for when scholars inevitably look back at this presidential race and ask ‘What the hell happened?’

Fallows pulls no punches when it comes to the press’ role in the creation of their Frankenstein “These mental habits of the media included an over-emphasis on strife and conflict,” he explained in one post, “a fascination with the mechanics or ‘game’ of politics rather than the real-world consequences…”

In some ways, Amanda Knox can be seen as a distress call to the state of journalism. With it, the directors are putting a human face on the drawbacks of restless reporting. The result is a parable for a country that has lately been giving itself a long, hard look in the mirror.