Witch. Satanic. Sex game.
These catchwords have consumed Italian society in its impressions of the Amanda Knox trial. To Italian and European news sources, the not-guilty verdict was a disappointing anti-climax to four years of vindictive media coverage. Meanwhile across the Atlantic, American televisions and newspapers hailed the overturned conviction as a victory for justice. Throughout the entire process, they had discredited the Italian legal system as totally incompetent and unprofessional in their handling of the case. Lost in this medley of guilty or not guilty, witch or victim of unprofessional police investigations, are the polar approaches that European and U.S. media outlets took in their coverage.
The trial was an occasion to pit two competing cultures, American and European, in a face-off of cultural superiority. Preconceived European and American prejudices dictated how the trial was to be told. Italian media ostracized Knox as the embodiment of evil. She was a symbol of American arrogance, apathy, and proclivity to violence. America depicted her trial as a reflection of Europe’s amateur legal systems and their cultural feudalism.
Like a Dickens novel, the mob had willed Knox’s original conviction by cleverly playing on Italian sentiments. Buzzwords like “witch” and “she-devil” were brilliantly employed to brand the case as a daring sex game gone wrong, with an American girl in the middle. It was the perfect Italian cronaca nera, literally translated to mean "black chronicle," the American equivalent of a scandal. It captivated Italian society.
That an eccentric girl from Seattle with a penchant for Yoga and a perceived libertine disposition, would be the mastermind of the murder of Meredith Kirchner, “innocent” Kerchner, was tailored perfectly for Italy’s fascination with scandals.
Knox presented an opportunity for the Italians, and by extension the Europeans, to demonstrate the corrupt state of American morality. When this cronaca nera broke out in 2007, anti-American sentiments in Europe had reached a crescendo. Between the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, growing resistance to American military bases in Italy, and increased resentment towards American economic policies that ultimately led to a global economic collapse, European public opinion couldn’t wait to vilify Knox as everything that was wrong with America.
The American she-devil with an indifference to human life was a microcosm to America's unjust wars abroad. Portraying her as a mastermind of the murder plot implicitly drew parallels to America policing the world to advance its immoral strategic interest. American media vindicated her as someone who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. European Media placed her right where she should have been: at the heart of it.
In the end, justice prevailed over mob rule. But not without resistance. Even major UK media outlets like the BBC, with its self-appointed reputation for journalistic integrity, succumbed to the sensationalist appetites of the masses. On September 26, 2011, a BBC Headline splashed a front page sound bite of a lawyer from her civil lawsuit calling Amanda Knox a “Witch of Deception.” Not to be outdone, the Guardian printed another sound bite of a lawyer calling her “an enchanting witch.” The public was eating up the media’s demonization of Amanda Knox as a diabolical psychopath killer. So much so that even after the Italian judge overturned the guilty verdict on appeal, a bitter band of people were gathered outside the court room shouting “Shame! Shame!”
A somber quote began circulating after the conviction was overturned. Speaking to the media, Knox’s lawyer said there are “no winners” in the case. He was mistaken. A winner did emerge from all this. Cultural prejudice prevailed again.
Photo Credit: saschapohflepp