Friday, April 02, 2010

How The Strongarm Public Relations Resulted in Most Of The Media Getting It Wrong

Posted by The TJMK Main Posters

PR manager David Marriott bumbles angrily

1. Underperforming Media

This is surely one of the worst cases of misreporting and malicious bias in all of media history. It’d be very nice (though don’t hold your breath!) if journalism schools and media owners examined the firestorm to stop it ever happening again.

Consider just the US hall of shame.

And please remember: this is the SAME media that turned a blind eye to the Micheli sentencing report on Guede, and appears to be trying hard to do the same (not one of them is translating it) to the Massei sentencing report on Knox and Sollecito.

2. Knox PR Chief Corrupter

Here is an excerpt from Barbie Nadeau’s fine new book, describing how the sharp-elbowed Knox/Marriott public relations bombardment warped Americans’ take on the case.

Coverage of the crime began to diverge on the two sides of the Atlantic. From the vantage point of Perugia, it seemed as though the Knox family’s American supporters were simply choosing to ignore the facts that were coming to light in Italy….

The American press hung back, at first, objective and somewhat disbelieving that such a wholesome-seeming girl could have any connection to such a sordid foreign crime, and then, as the family stepped up its defense, increasingly divided between two camps that would become simply the innocentisti - those who believed she was blameless - and the colpevolisti - those who did not. In Perugia, these labels governed access…

Of the handful of American journalists in Perugia in late 2007 and early 2008, none got access to the Knox family without certain guarantees about positive coverage. Within months, the family decided to speak on the record primarily to the American TV networks, often in exchange for airfare and hotel bills. Most of the print press was shut out. And the TV producers learned to be very cautious about being seen with people like me, lest the Knox family should cut them off.

But as interest in the case grew, an odd assortment of American talking heads attached their reputations to Amanda’s innocence. An aggressive support group called Friends of Amanda (FOA) formed in Seattle, headed by Anne Bremner [and on the sly, Judge Michael Heavey.

Very quickly, [PR manager David] Marriott lost control of the situation. As he spoon-fed the Knox-approved message to American outlets that couldn’t afford to send correspondents to Italy, those of us on the ground in Perugia began passing his contradictory e-mails around as entertainment during the long days in the court. In one instance, Marriott confirmed to me that ABC News had paid for Amanda’s parents to fly to Perugia in exchange for exclusivity. When I confronted my friend Ann Wise, an ABC producer based in Italy, she quickly passed on the leak. ABC got a denial from him that he had ever told me this—despite the fact that I had an e-mail to prove it.

Similarly, in the spring of 2008, he told me that the Knoxes would not give interviews, and then Rachel Donadio of the New York Times had a sit-down with Amanda’s father, Curt Knox. Marriott told me that Rachel must have door-stepped Curt in Perugia; she confirmed that Marriott had set up the interview for her. What Marriott failed to realize was that the Italy-based press corps was a close-knit group that could not be played against each other.

Meanwhile, the networks started vying for the Knoxes’ attention with their own legal analysts. Among the first was Joe Tacopina, a sexy Italian American New York lawyer… In the spring of 2008, Tacopina came to Perugia as a paid consultant for ABC News to investigate the real story behind the Kercher murder, and I interviewed him for Newsweek in Rome in March. He said he was acting as a consultant to the family, even though he was being paid by ABC, and he was the first to call foul on the missteps by Italian investigators.

But he also told me that deep down, he wasn’t sure about Amanda’s story. “Her best defense, I think, is probably going to be the truth. Am I saying she didn’t make mistakes? No. And do I know for a fact that she’s innocent? Of course not.”

That was the end of Joe Tacopina’s involvement in the case and the beginning of more aggressive message control out of Seattle. Andrea Vogt, a Bologna-based freelancer stringing for the Seattle Press-Intelligencer, wrote her own story about Tacopina’s behavior in Perugia, and Marriott quickly tried to shut her down. ...we began what would be a two-year battle against the Seattle message machine, incurring personal attacks and outright threats…

The push-back from Seattle ferocious, but the message discipline was imperfect. When Bremner told CNN that Amanda needed the U.S. State Department to rescue her, Marriott would simply quip, “Anne doesn’t speak for the family” or “I don’t keep up with what Anne is doing.”

Moreover, Amanda’s Seattle supporters began to compromise the work of her legal team in Perugia. On August 12, 2008, Seattle judge Michael Heavey wrote a letter titled “Request to transfer the trial against Amanda Knox out of Perugia,” using Superior Court of the State of Washington letterhead. The headlines in Italy incorrectly interpreted this as “American Judge Wants Trial Transferred to America,” which infuriated Knox’s local counsel. By the time Heavey retracted his letter a few months later, with an apology to the Italian Justice department, the damage had been done.

The Perugia judge who denied Amanda’s request for house arrest said that one of the reasons was flight risk and that “the American judge who would have to sign her extradition back to Italy” would not cooperate. Knox’s attorney, Luciano Ghirga, told reporters outside the courthouse in Perugia, “The American lawyers do not represent anyone here.”

We like the Daily Beast book, for its splash of cold water on the media, and for its highly accurate accounting of the court proceedings and of the voluminous evidence the judges also describe in their report.

We also believe that although Meredith’s family did not participate, Barbie Nadeau has strong compassion for them, and a sense of real loss over Meredith.

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When the folks at PMF have finished their heroic effort to translate the report, perhaps we should send a pdf version to all of the addled people, networks and publications mentioned in the blog entry. It certainly is an eye-opening read.

Posted by Skeptical Bystander on 04/04/10 at 05:29 AM | #

Agreed, Skeptical Bystander. And as you know as well as any of us, this list of the highly-baised (and this one is only for the US - some UK writers also tried to slow justice for Meredith, who was from the UK and whose family still lives there) is not actually exhaustive. There were also many wannabe players who hopped on the slime-Mignini and slime-Italy bandwagon.

<ul><li>Steve Shay of the West Seattle Herald misrepresent the facts, jubilantly slimed Mignini, and incurred a lawsuit for his paper.</li>

<li>Victims’ rights advocate (yes, victims’ rights advocate) John Q Kelly surfaced on the Larry King Show (in front of a skeptical but under-informed Larry King ) to make overheated and wild-eyed claims not in favor of the true victim.</li>

<li>The self-annointed “crime historian” Dan Norder surfaced in The Examiner just the once - and then flamed out. </li></ul>

Flamed out… hmmm. So did so many others. We wonder why! Did reality bite them all in the tail? It would be nice to hear their mea culpas.


There is also a real hall of fame of course - US reporters who reported coolly and without any bias, and with kindness and caring to Meredith and her family. Barbie Nadeau here clearly is one. Andrea Vogt of the Seattle P-I is clearly another. There are several others. Ann Wise of ABC for example. And NBC’s three Dateline reports were as cool and objective as they come. The Examiner has done a very nice job.

In a balanced media world, each of the above would be in line for a Pulitzer.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 04/04/10 at 03:26 PM | #

I have gone back and forth on this case since it’s inception. The more I read, the more conviced I become of Amanad and Rafaele"s involvement.

However; I must add that I sometimes get discouraged to see (on this site)that any reporting that does not paint these two horribly or agree completely with TJ’s views ies deemed"very bad journalism.”

Enough already. It makes this “tribute” appear quite hateful, spiteful and negative.

Sharon P

Posted by Marysharon on 04/06/10 at 06:17 PM | #

Hi Sharon. I have seen no examples here of ¨not completely agree with¨. I have only seen them of ¨completely not agree¨.

Posted by Helder Licht on 04/06/10 at 08:22 PM | #

Hi Sharon,

It’s completely untrue that we deem any reporting that doesn’t paint Knox and Sollecito horribly or agree with our views as bad journalism. However, the media are not above criticism.

We are perfectly within our rights to point out that many of the magazine and newspapers articles, and television documentaries about the case are poorly-researched, riddled with factual errors and horribly one-sided.

Some journalists have claimed that Meredith was drunk or that she had sex with Rudy Guede on the night she was murdered. These claims are not only untrue, but deeply hurtful to Meredith’s family and friends.

You might think it’s acceptable for journalists to do little or no research, to get basic facts wrong, to publish untrue and hurtful comments about Meredith, to agree to write positive articles about Amanda Knox in return for access to her family, and to write articles that are completely one-sided and have absolutely no input from anyone who believes Knox and Sollecito are guilty of murdering Meredith. We don’t.

Evidential criticism of these journalists and their reports is fair and valid. We live in democratic countries where freedom of speech is allowed. If this offends you, it’s your problem, not ours.

Posted by The Machine on 04/06/10 at 08:38 PM | #

Hi Sharon. You are the most recent to register of our 1000-plus members here. Did you do so to provide us with this advice? Perhaps if you had been around here longer, and read a lot more, you would have known that we’ve always had three missions, not just the one.

Providing Meredith with a real presence in face of sustained attempts to erase her has always been our first mission, the one we like most, and we wish it could only be that.

But missions two and three - to set out the evidence in a cool logical way, and to call the media on its frequent dishonesty, personal nastiness, xenophobia, and extreme bias - have always been sustained as well. We have no intention if we can help it of giving a free pass to 25 more years of such reporting. 

Incoming emails typically don’t reflect your claims at all. We receive several a day encouraging our stand against misreporting - and others, many of them from Seattle, saying that it is weeks or months since they encountered anyone who thinks this is actually a frame-up.

The media clearly has some serious catching-up to do, as the readers now are so far out in front. Good luck if you set out to to share that kind of advice - advice they seem to us to seriously need.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 04/06/10 at 10:12 PM | #


“However; I must add that I sometimes get discouraged to see (on this site)that any reporting that does not paint these two horribly or agree completely with TJ’s views ies deemed"very bad journalism.”

sharon, where?

Can you show me ?

Posted by Chan on 04/07/10 at 01:08 PM | #

“tutto il mondo e (is) paese”

the italian have a great saying: all the world is country.

here is a snippet of the problems and risks the US judiciary faces with their DNA testing and labs .....

Now, compare this with the criticisms levelled at the italian forensic labs .....

“SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco Police Department drug-testing lab will remain closed indefinitely until security and staffing issues outlined in an independent audit released Tuesday are resolved.

Because of the stressful and unmanageable caseloads, there was a “fertile environment” for tampering with evidence, police Chief George Gascón said at a news conference Tuesday.”

Read more at the San Francisco Examiner:

Posted by Chan on 04/07/10 at 01:19 PM | #

This is the opening of the Prosecutor’s closing summary in the Carlo Parlanti rape case ....

I haven’t made this up; this is a copy from the transcripts.

And then it was ‘guilty’.

This is the type on hypocrisy and double-standard that causes division and rage for any person that believes a fair judicial process.

Can you imagine what would have happened if Mignini had opened with the same summary?

“So, the first thing I would like to start off with to let you know is that there are some things that you, as jurors, are not going to get as evidence, and I want to bring that to the forefront right now so you don’t ask about them during your deliberations.

You are not going to get the police reports. There are legal reasons why this evidence is not going to come before you, and you are not to speculate as to why or why not you are getting them.

You are not going to get any transcripts that were referenced to.

You are not going to get the full and complete diaries that we talked about, and you are not going to get any of the medical reports that Dr. Manchester talked about.”

Posted by Chan on 04/07/10 at 03:33 PM | #

Hi Chan. We havent ever made reference on TJMK to the Carlo Parlanti case but perhaps we should, as it is one of the several cases well-known in Italy that show the US justice system in a very poor light.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 04/07/10 at 04:24 PM | #


How can Knox and Sollecito be viewed any other way but “horribly”?  There is overwhelming evidence that they committed a heinous crime against a young, innocent and sweet-natured woman.
Then they tried to hide the truth and have created an army of people to unwittingly (in most cases) lie on their behalf. Further, as long as so called “journalists” report falsifications, we have the right to criticize them.  “By their deeds ye shall know them”.......

Posted by Mo-in-Mass.,USA on 04/08/10 at 04:19 AM | #

Well, I just recieved, and finished reading ‘Angel Face’. I have now read the 3 main ones, in english anyways. The Death of Meredith Kercher - Darkness Decending - and Angel Face and if I had to rate them out of 5, I’ld give them a 2, 4, and 3.
Angel face far far to short, not enough substance but did speak of topics the other two did not, and I have been a big fan of Barbie for quite some time - I think this book, as well as the first was rushed out to quick, not near enough content but still a good read.
If you are only going to read one book though, make it Darkness Decending.

Posted by John on 04/20/10 at 05:14 AM | #

Hi John. Thanks for that great assessment. Email us a comparative post if you have the urge and the time? That would be very nice. 

Barbie Nadeau could give the project only three weeks - Newsweek apparently keep her pretty busy in Italy and her Italian reporting in general is among the best in the US - but Tina Brown is very convinced that the court got the verdict right, and Barbie’s posts in the Beast had got huge reads.

We are going to post some excerpts from Darkness Descending. The most exhaustive will be John Follain’s though that book wont be out until after the appeal.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 04/20/10 at 11:29 PM | #

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