Having watched two and a half hours of The Case for Innocence, I get the impression of a campaign that is no longer clear what its narrative is or should be or, apart from the obvious, what its objective is. Historically, it has focussed on shaping public opinion in the US, but some have said this has been at the expense of irritating people in Italy, whose opinion counts much more for Amanda Knox in her current situation.
Around the time of Knox’s conviction in December 2009, Friends of Amanda Knox, together with the PR firm hired by the Knox family, held sway to an impressive degree over coverage of the Meredith Kercher case in the US media. They worked hard at it, and they provided an angle on a story which key media outlets, having no-one to report from Perugia, might otherwise have struggled to cover beyond reporting the verdict.
In that context, little more was required of them than outrage and generalised criticism of the case against Knox. But the Italian justice system is notorious for moving at a snail’s pace and the passage of time has changed things. There have been books, websites and a TV movie. English versions of key court documents are now in the public domain. Knox’s supporters are no longer the sole custodians of her story.
Which puts the Friends in a new position where they can’t simply obfuscate and they really need instead to convincingly explain what is wrong with the case against her. A key difficulty for them is a lack of clarity about this.
Supporters of Knox may be reading this with incredulity. When you break it down, there are literally hundreds of things wrong with the case. Right? The prosecutors were warped and the judges must have been on another planet. How much more clarity is needed about this exactly?
This is the main problem with what I have been watching. Most people who count understand by now, at the very least, that there are two sides to this case and that important areas of contention, assuming there are any, must be narrow. We feel we know from experience that cases like this tend to turn on competing interpretations of key pieces of evidence. The idea that the prosecution was so inept that it is wrong on virtually every single detail and the court, for some reason, failed to notice this in every instance lacks plausibility. There’s a real need, in my view, to hone in on the arguments that are most likely to convince.
Or, to put it in public relations language, the campaign lacks key messages. At one time “Italy is backwards, there’s no evidence and just take a look at Amanda” served this purpose. Quite correctly, that approach has been dropped, for the most part. But something is needed to fill its place.
At one extreme, we have Paul Ciolino. Most of what he says is nonsense on a purely factual level, and its easily refuted. Most of what’s then left is just ridiculous. The prosecution case is based on claims made by an aristocratic medium who communed with the spirit of a dead priest? America can solve this by breaking off diplomatic ties with Italy and imposing a trade embargo? Who’s going to be bold enough to tell me that doesn’t sound nuts? And no, it isn’t sensible to dismiss apparently damning prosecution evidence as “fantasy” and imagine that will do.
Steve Moore seems to have come in for quite a bit of flack on the Internet – understandably, I might add – for his performance in the video. But I actually think he is nearer the mark than Ciolino, in some respects, in terms of communicating his message. His actual message is, for me, unconvincing. His theory that footprints said by the court to be in blood might actually be in bleach rests on too many assumptions (besides which, how does bleach come to contain DNA?). I don’t think there’s anything like enough convincing evidence of Rudy Guede being such a bad boy that we can discount evidence against anyone else.
I don’t feel he knows what he’s talking about, and it seems like quite a few people, with different perspectives, who are familiar with the case, agree. But Moore’s FBI background, sensibly or not, lends him credibility. If he can focus just a little more and avoid mangling what he is saying, then I think he is still an asset.
Just as an aside, I think I’ve spotted a pattern in Moore’s gaffe-making. He not only gets things wrong, but he manages each time to end up saying exactly what would be said by someone who thinks Knox is guilty. In attempting to explain away the “glass-on-top-of-clothes” element of why investigators concluded Knox and Sollecito had staged a burglary at the crime scene, he ends up giving a sort of garbled endorsement of the prosecution case. He tells us “defence lawyers are gonna throw a million things on the wall and hope that one thing sticks”. “When is a murder weapon not a murder weapon?” he asks. Isn’t that a line you would use if you were trying to mock the defence case? Maybe I’m reading a lot into it, but I wonder if Moore has himself lost faith and his brain is just getting exhausted trying to keep up the façade for an extended period.
Mark Waterbury‘s presentation is a lot better. Next to Moore and Ciolino, he seems the picture of measured rationality. More to the point, he actually gives the impression of having researched and thought through what he is saying. I can’t help wondering whether the whole video might have been a lot more powerful if he had also handled Moore and Ciolino’s respective briefs for them. I don’t think he lands much of a punch in his own presentation, because his whole argument basically boils down to “if the DNA testing was done wrongly, then the DNA results are not valid”. This stands to reason, but the unanswered question is whether the DNA testing was actually done wrongly. However, since the DNA evidence is currently being reviewed, we may well soon have an answer to that. If it goes the way Waterburg would like, then Friends of Amanda Knox may well end up with a very serviceable argument and a skilled advocate to make it.
I wonder how Mike Heavey‘s claim of “22 lies” told to the public by the police or prosecutors during the investigation might be developed. He lists three of them, but I don’t think these can really be called “lies”. One of them, though, was a claim that Knox was caught on CCTV, which turned out to be a probably doubtful interpretation of the footage. This seems to me to be validly criticisable. If very many of the 19 lies he did not disclose are similar to this, I think that could give a lot of people pause. Enough examples would be needed to suggest a pattern, and they would need to robust in the face of counter-claims. Crucially, on-record statements are needed, rather than rumours of unknown provenance. If you want to accuse people of lying, then be sure that the contents of your accusations are accurate, or it may bite you on the bum.
In complete honesty, I didn’t expect to actually become more convinced of the guilt of Knox and Sollecito after watching these presentations, but that’s what happened. Perhaps Friends of Amanda Knox might think about whether I am an unusual case in this respect. Assuming they are not about to quit any time soon, I think their message needs some urgent work. My advice to them is free of charge.