Bloggergate update

Frank Sfarzo

Frank Sfarzo

Last week I posted about a letter written by the New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists to the Italian President regarding the Perugian blogger Frank Sfarzo.

The letter alleges police harassment and intimidation against Frank, apparently orchestrated by Giuliano Mignini, chief prosecutor in the Meredith Kercher case. Frank, it seems, is awaiting trial on a charge of assaulting a police officer. But the crux of the story is that is looks like the police may also suspect him of some other crime.

I don’t think the central allegations made by Frank can be assessed without information about what this crime may be and what evidence there may or may not be against him. Because for the police to investigate a crime about which they have evidence does not constitute harassment or intimidation, provided, of course, they do not behave significantly differently to the way they would in the normal course of things.

Anyway, I thought it was time for an update on all this, mainly because the outcry that might have been expected in the international media has not really materialised yet (there was a blog post by the co-producer of the dreadful Amanda Knox documentary on CBS American Girl, Italian Nightmare, and that’s about it). Surely this is something that somebody should be writing about?

The True Justice website has stepped into the void with a detailed two-part rebuttal to the letter. This makes its case quite clearly and is well worth reading. But I don’t think you need to agree with everything they say point-for-point, or even generally share their views about the Kercher case, to put the letter next to the rebuttal and realise that the Committee to Protect Journalists ought to be asking itself some searching questions.

In particular, there’s something that True Justice imply fairly clearly, but which I feel the need to really highlight. The letter seems to have had a genesis which is somehow murky but also completely transparent at the same time.

Someone called Douglas Preston has harboured (or, possibly, opportunistically cultivated) a grudge against someone called Giuliano Mignini, a prosecutor in the Kercher case. This has its origins in the fact that, a few years ago, Mignini put Preston on a charge, probably with some justification, suspecting him of unethically and illegally conspiring to pervert the course of a police investigation. Preston has since attached himself to a campaign to undermine Mignini’s prosecution of Amanda Knox (which he is, of course, entitled to do).

I would suggest it is at least possible that Preston has ended up, somehow, talking to a representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists on behalf an adventurous but possibly reckless blogger, who is a key figure in the Free Amanda campaign. Because Preston is a significant donor to the Committee to Protect Journalists, someone from the aforementioned Committee agrees to write down everything he and/or the blogger says and, without asking any of the questions that really ought to be asked, faithfully turns that into a letter which is then published on the Internet.

In short, the Committee to Protect Journalists appears to me to have turned a trick in pursuance of someone’s personal vendetta. It really should hang its head and, quite arguably, its apparently gutless Executive Director, Joel Simon.

None of the above should be taken as meaning that Frank Sfarzo has no legitimate complaint. I couldn’t possibly know for sure whether he does or he doesn’t. But the point is that I doubt Joel Simon has any idea either.

There are quite a few items of information in the True Justice rebuttal that shed light into some of the gloomy corners of this affair. For example, Preston’s inexplicably warm attitude to Mignini in an interview a year after being charged by him. What’s changed since then? Has a bandwaggon turned his head?

There is also the fact that Frank actually filmed one of the incidents complained about in the letter and included the video in this blog post. In the letter, “several members of Squadra Mobile … approached him just outside the city court … and started to push and hit him”. This gives an impression that is totally different from what can be seen in the film.

In full view of dozens of potential witnesses to any police brutality that might take place, Frank seems to be pushed or pulled to the side by someone (not gently, and possibly by a police officer) after failing to heed a request not to shove his camera directly into the face of Meredith Kercher’s sister as she leaves court. Whether that was entirely necessary in order to protect her I can’t easily say, since I wasn’t there. You can watch the video and decide for yourself precisely how unfair it looks.

Note: A further update is here.

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19 Responses to Bloggergate update

  1. Kaosium says:

    In short, the Committee to Protect Journalists appears to me to have turned a trick in pursuance of someone’s personal vendetta. It really should hang its head and, quite arguably, its apparently gutless Executive Director, Joel Simon.

    I disagree, after about a dozen journalists have had extraneous charges filed or investigations started on them in connection to this case, the only ones who should hang their heads in shame are the ones who think cherry-picked quotes and conspiratorial thinking ‘rebut’ that.

    Maybe Douglas Preston originally thought MG was the main impetus behind his treatment and Mignini just a hard-ass doing his job…until he sees Mignini doing the same thing on another case and he realizes they were good friends and in together on his persecution?

  2. Kaosium says:

    I got the charges against the Sollecito family mixed up, I thought it was five journalists from Telenorba and two Sollecitos, the father and sister, whereas it was five members of the family and just two journalists. So I could only find eight as of now, and of course I read it on the internet, which is what you’re going on as well. I included your ‘choice source’ as a reference for the first one in your honor. 😀

    It might make sense to you that supporters of Raffaele and Amanda were more ‘biased’ than ‘supporters of the victim’ after all, I started with the same premise. However I found out that is most definitely not the case in this instance, we’ll see how long it takes you to come to the same conclusion…

    2 from Telenorba for airing the clip of the bra clasp ‘collection.’

    2 from Oggi, Giangavino Sulas and editor and director Umberto Brindani, from CPJ article.

    1 from Giornale dell ‘Umbria, Fransesca Bene, whom you can see here referenced in Time, and here at the bottom of the page. There’s been reports another reporter for that paper has been charged but I cannot find anything on it this instant.

    Joe Cottonwood

    Steve Shay and the West Seattle Herald

    Frank Sfarzo as per the CPJ article.

    • maundy says:

      Kaosium, I think you’re adopting quite a wide definition of “extraneous charges filed or investigations started”.

      There have been any number of threats to sue for defamation issued in relation to the case, including against Giangavino Sulas, Umberto Brindani, Steve Shay and Joe Cottonwood. Personally, I think the threats against Cottonwood may be slightly unfair, since he is a children’s author. And I’m not a fan of issuing legal threats anything other than conservatively. Generally, though, it is anyone’s right to have a lawyer send a letter to someone if they think they have been defamed. Note that none of these cases have ended up in legal action (to my knowledge).

      The two employees of Telenorba are charged with broadcasting judicially sealed crime scene footage, inlcuding images of Meredith Kercher’s corpse. Without wishing to prejudge the case, it is fairly clear that this is illegal under Italian law and absolutely certain that the material was broadcast. I’ll grant, though, that those are journalists who have geninely been charged with something.

      Fransesca Bene I have not heard of. Do you have any more info on that? The blog post you link to only says that she was “interrogated” by police about something. Journalists are questioned by police all the time because they are a source of information. Was this in relation to the Kercher case? Is anything improper alleged with regard to police conduct?

      Lastly, we have Frank Sfarzo. We have no information about whether Frank’s legal troubles are related to the Kercher case, because CPJ do not appear to have bothered to inquire. All we know is that the police paid him a visit for some reason. He can bring clarity to this anytime he likes.

  3. What makes you say that CPJ did not appear to have bothered to inquire?

    • maundy says:

      Just because the reason or supposed reason for the police being there seems to me to be the most crucial detail in the whole thing, and it is notable by its absence. Surely someone ought to have thought to ask “OK, so why were they there”? I’m inferring from the fact that the answer is not reported that either the question wasn’t asked or the answer, when it came, tended to undermine the tale. But the benefit of doubt tells me to go with the first alternative.

  4. Peggy Ganong says:

    It should be a fairly simple matter to find out what the charges are against “Frank Sfarzo” and what brought police officers to his place of residence on September 28, 2010. The normally loquatious blogger makes no mention of the incident in his October 1, 2010 blog post. He did, however, announce in March 2011 that he had been called to an interview as a person informed of the facts, though he did not say what the matter was. He also assured his panicked readers that nothing bad had happened, only that he was unable to answer many questions due to a faulty memory, wink wink.

    One question I have is whether the most recent interview is related to the Sept 28, 2010 arrest or not. Perhaps not, but one has to wonder given that the CPJ’s action was supposedly triggered by an event that occurred almost eight months ago. Why did “Frank Sfarzo” wait so long? We have learned that he will have his day in court next month, at which time perhaps more information will be forthcoming. But we have also been informed by the CPJ, quoting “Frank Sfarzo”, that the judges and the police are in cahoots, meaning that he will be convicted as charged and implying that he will not get a fair trial. This is a more far-reaching charge than alleged police brutality.

    All in all, I come away feeling that the CPJ has only further muddied the waters. The only way out at this point is to provide much needed clarification.

  5. CPJ wrote in their rebuttal to Kermit, “Our letter was based on firsthand interviews with subjects who were directly affected by Perugia authorities’ actions in retaliation for their reporting or published comments in relation to the Kercher case, as well as in relation to another high-profile murder case, known as the “Monster of Florence” killings. We stand by it.” What you and Kermit is done is to speculate from your respective arm chairs without gathering any new information, from what I can see.

  6. Peggy Ganong says:

    I read the CPJ response to Kermit and am not impressed. CPJ is referring to Doug Preston, Mario Spezi, Steve Shay and his boss at the West Seattle Herald, and probably Joe Cottonwood, an obscure novelist. Neither Shay nor Cottonwood have done any investigative reporting on this case and neither has interviewed Mignini or any Perugian authorities.
    Moreover, there is a huge difference between criticizing a court’s verdict or an investigation and attacking an officer of the court. Both Shay and Cottonwood crossed the line. Shay’s comment was particularly insidious and in cowardly fashion he later claimed only to have written down what was said at the gathering he covered. In addition, he has ties to the FOA, an advocacy group. He is not, prima facie, a neutral journalist.

    Mario Spezi was convicted for slander and for something similar to contempt of court. He was also caught trying to illegally wiretap a magistrate. The vendetta between him and Mignini is longstanding. The Italian courts are dealing with all of these matters.

    As for Doug Preston, a founding member of the FOA, he had a sudden and adverse change of heart about Mignini a few years back. The proof of this is available for all to see. In addition, he is a contributor to CPJ and has now used it twice now to further his own career and aims. I and many others find it outrageous that he does so under the guise of defending free speech. The “journalist” he is ostensibly defending has legitimate legal problems that will be addressed in a court of law. In the meantime, and for more than three years now, I have seen no proof that this “journalist” has been prevented in any way from reporting on this case.

    In my opinion, this is all sufficiently troubling to warrant a review for conflict of interest by a neutral outside body, like the Poynter Institute for Ethics.

    If an independent review reveals that there is conflict of interest, then Joel Simon should correct his error.

    It seems to me that this is a modest and reasonable proposal that should be no cause no alarm.

  7. RoseMontague says:

    Peggy,
    I saw your comment about Frank at PMF. You said:

    “Finally, I got to thinking about Frank’s reply to the poster who expressed dismay over the age of consent in Italy and then dismay over his reply. Let’s not forget that it was Frank who chaperoned the younger Knox sisters the day they were photographed in short shorts and halter tops in front of the cottage where Meredith Kercher was murdered.”

    Are you accusing Frank of something here?

  8. Peggy Ganong says:

    Yes I am, Rose. I am accusing Frank of showing extremely poor judgement. His flippant attitude toward the age of consent for girls in general got me thinking about it, that’s all. As I remember, it was Frank who was given the responsibility of supervising those girls on the day these unfortunate photos were taken. I think anyone in his right mind would have recognized how inappropriate the photos were on every possible level, related in part to the age and attire of the subjects and the location. But for Frank, apparently, “no problem”. As he said to the person who asked about sex between a “consenting” 14-year old and a grown man: “if she wants to, why not?” The point is that consent is not a straightforward thing in such cases, for example when girls are 14 and dealing with someone of the opposite gender who is older and more powerful. What does consent mean under such circumstances?
    Frank should have had the good sense to say no to them or for them, even if the girls in his charge “wanted to”. He showed extremely poor judgement, as did the adult male photographer who took the photos and the magazine editor who approved them for publication. Yuck all around.

  9. Peggy Ganong says:

    P.S. Rose, it is probably not polite to hijack Maundy’s blog in general and a blog post on another subject in particular. I hope my answer is clear and complete.

  10. RoseMontague says:

    If all you are claiming is bad judgment on Frank’s part in letting someone take those pictures then why mention the age of consent discussion along with the Knox sister’s short shorts and halter tops? It gives me the impression that you are implying something else about Frank that is very unsavory.

    My understanding was this was an interview and photo-shoot with Gente magazine and that also included pictures of Edda Mellas. One of the sisters was 20 years old at the time, the other was 14. If Frank was there, I don’t recall it being mentioned.

    • maundy says:

      Just a general observation that this might be getting a little OT. Frank’s comments on his blogsite about 14 year-old girls certainly don’t reflect well on him. “Very unsavoury”? I guess that’s a matter of opinion. It’s also not in very good taste to photograph members of Knox’s family posing at the murder scene, although I doubt they allowed Frank to dress them for the occasion.

      • RoseMontague says:

        There is a photo of the sisters wearing the same clothes taken with Edda on the courthouse steps. I think it is only common sense that Edda was aware and let them be photographed wearing those same clothes.

        CPJ is being accused of running a story without properly vetting it and Frank is being accused of lying to the CPJ about his interactions with the cops. It appears to me that both sides have taken a side on this and that side relates to how they feel about innocence or guilt of Knox and Sollectito rather than who is at fault with this situation.

  11. Peggy Ganong says:

    P.S. And if it was indeed Edda, and not Frank, as he claimed, then shame on Edda. She showed bad judgement. But my understanding is that she entrusted the care of these girls to Frank and his photographer friend. And yes, one was 20 at the time. So what? The other 14. They were left in the care of two 40-something men. The power differential is tremendous. My original observations stand. Either Edda showed bad judgment, or Frank did, or both did.

  12. CodyJoeBibby says:

    Why was it bad taste for the Knox girls to be photographed near the cottage?

    • maundy says:

      Well, they’re sort of posing like tourists. You don’t find that at least a bit unseemly? I guess it could be a matter of opinion.

  13. CodyJoeBibby says:

    I suppose that in the past 10 years I’ve seen so many dead bodies and people being killed on the news that two girls standing outside a house seems like nothing.

    Who cares? They didn’t kill anyone, and they don’t think their sister did either.

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