Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How The New York Times Caused Unneccesary And Unhelpful Anger In Italy

Posted by Miss Represented

[click for larger image]

Another beautiful view of Italy. This one is of Portofino.

How could THE NEW YORK TIMES of all papers enable the ridiculing of this civilized and humane country for its handling of the case?

The Times may deny it because Timothy Egan’s rancid piece was “just” a blog. But ask any good lawyer - all content is ultimately the Times’s. They presumably have rules, and if they don’t have them, then they should.

Let’s look in depth at the content of Egan’s piece, which a huge audience in Italy has now read and found wanting. 

Aside from the very suggestive title “An Innocent Abroad” what becomes immediately apparent is not only the lack of objectivity (surely an essential tool for any self respecting journalist), but also the lack of any in depth discussion about the actual basis of the prosecution’s case.

A case that has been presented in detail twice a week for nearly half a year now.

Instead of discussing the factors leading to the arrest and trial of the defendants, Egan brings up the old, clichéd and unsubstantiated “mad fanatical prosecutor” charge as a reason for the trial. He muses thus:

The case against Knox has so many holes in it, and is so tied to the career of a powerful Italian prosecutor who is under indictment for professional misconduct, that any fair-minded jury would have thrown it out months ago.

My, my, feeling ethnocentric today aren’t we? Egan continues to bandy the “this would never happen in America” claim and appoints himself judge, jury and excuser, in order to make the assertion that he alone knows what the outcome of this trial would be in good old USA.

Egan is clearly suggesting to his readers that the conviction of Amanda Knox would be tantamount to a miscarriage of justice. Can anyone say objective reporting? Nope? I really didn’t think so.

Egan fails to mention that both Knox and Sollecito had many court hearings prior to the trial, and were afforded many legal advantages and some excellent legal representation.

If even one of the judges who presided over the initial hearings had decided there was insufficient evidence to hold or charge them, they would have been released. Every single judge that heard the evidence suggesting their involvement in the murder denied their release - some in very sharp terms.

It’s hardly as if they were at a disadvantage or even in the position to be railroaded. Knox and Sollecito actually incriminated themselves long before the police even got a sniff of Rudy Guede by way of their repeated lying.

Egan also fails to mention neither Knox nor Sollecito have a firm alibi that holds up for the night of the murder. Rather telling.

It seems Egan has opted to pass on the option of providing his readers with an interesting and objective piece, in favor of bandying the PR agenda surrounding the trial of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito for their possible role in the murder.

The victim here is of course an afterthought. Egan briefly gushes about Meredith being “high-spirited” before comparing how “high-spirited” (what?!) both girls were. Then he essentially explains that we should forget about Meredith, and focus on poor old Amanda whom this case obviously revolves around:

But it is also about Amanda Knox, an equally high-spirited student whose life has been nearly ruined by this collision of predatory journalism and slipshod prosecution ““ “the railroad job from hell,” as one outside expert hired by CBS News concluded.

Knox’s life has been nearly ruined by this collision of predatory journalism and slipshod prosecution? Most unfortunate. How inconvenient. Meredith of course now has no life to be interrupted.

Egan forgets to mention that the “outside expert” here is Paul Ciolino, a P-I for hire, whose objectivity and expertise have on several occasions been called into question. His several public forays into the case (Perugia for CBS and Salty’s for FOA) were disasters. 

The following statement is again pretty misleading:

Knox may not feel the same way. She spent nearly a year in jail without being charged. This, despite the fact that the only physical evidence found on the murder victim’s body was from someone else ““ a drifter with a drug problem named Rudy Guede.

Knox and Sollecito spent a year in jail whilst the police built a case, as they are legally entitled to do, while the accumulating evidence was gradually becoming massive.

There were repeated judicial hearings on the evidence, any of which could have released them.

The second statement, about Guede, is technically true, but Egan fails to go into any depth concerning the considerable other forensic evidence - something even the most banal reporter on the case has managed to do.

Equally telling is this:

After being questioned all night without an attorney or a professional translator, Knox said some things in response to a series of hypothetical questions. This was initially trumpeted as a contradiction, or worst ““ a confession. A higher court later threw out the most damning statements.

Egan at least fails to trumpet once again the accusation that Knox was hit by police, an accusation that has angered much of Italy (see several posts below) and got her into hot water with the Italian authorities.

Amanda was not questioned all night by Mignini, and she freely offered the police Patrick Lumumba’s name. She even made up details about how they had met and when they went to the cottage together.

Egan also attempts to gloss over the significance of the false confession with what is perhaps my favorite euphemism in the whole post:

Knox raised the possibility that a bar owner with an airtight alibi could have been involved.”

You don’t “raise the possibility” that someone was involved in a murder. You either accuse them or you don’t.

If the subject weren’t so serious and the potential for real harm and misinforming the public so great, it could almost be funny. In fact Knox accused Lumumba flat-out, in great detail, and later confirmed it in writing when certainly not under duress.

And Knox was certainly not questioned for 14 hours, it was four or five hours at most, between midnight and sunrise. She was offered refreshments, and she willingly signed a statement.

A lawyer was not present and therefore this statement cannot be used against her. But Egan forgets to mention a handwritten note Knox gave to police detailing her “confession” explaining how she would “stand by” her accusation of Patrick (that she knew was false) which, unlike her first statement, has not been thrown out of court and will be used as evidence in the slander case against her.

Egan further mentions (on details of Amanda’s sex life being leaked):

The Brits, in particular, had a field day. Locked from her house in the first days after it became a crime scene, Knox went to a store one day with Sollecito to buy emergency underwear. The British tabs bannered this as a g-string celebration of remorseless killers.

Emergency underwear that consists of a g-string and a camisole top? Hardly “emergency underwear” would you perhaps agree? Add this to the spectacular scene Amanda and Raffaele made in the Bubbly lingerie store, and it seems the British tabloids were perhaps not far from the truth.

The British papers were certainly not the only papers to have published details about Amanda’s sex life (which in the grand scheme of things is not important). But the press were always going to try and find out this sort of information about her because it’s what all of the press do.

Egan, as a journalist himself, should know this, and attempting to portray Amanda as a sweet and innocent ray of sunshine by criticising those who uncover evidence that she is in fact the opposite is a blatant attempt at shooting the messenger.

Some of you may be asking what the point of Egan’s article is? After all, it sheds no new light at all on the ongoing trial or the evidence that has come out over the last few months.

Well, hidden in Egan’s article is what seems a badly disguised advert for Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi’s book “The Monster of Florence” and as these little “promos” often are, the result seems a transparent endorsement written in extremely poor taste.

Has anyone noticed that whenever any criticism of the case against Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito surfaces, the same name usually pops up? Often introduced by the synoptic tagline “the prominent best-selling American author” Douglas Preston?  I seriously rather doubt that Douglas Preston could give a fig about Amanda Knox.

Indeed, the only linking factor between Preston and Amanda Knox’s “plight” is the presence of Giuliano Mignini. Preston seems to harbor a grudge and to be using his “experience” of being questioned by Mignini to peddle his book.

Whilst people like Douglas Preston keep bleating on about the “backward” Italian justice system, the Italians have actually presented a very solid case. If people like Timothy Egan now choose to cover it irresponsibly and unethically, sadly, it’s up to them.

But there’s no reason at all for the New York Times to provide him with a vehicle.

Egan explains how “˜haunted’ he is by an observation made by a former Times colleague in Rome:

In Italy, the general assumption is that someone is guilty until proven innocent. Trials ““ in the press and in the courts ““ are more often about defending personal honor than establishing facts, which are easily manipulated.

I too am haunted by this statement.

Haunted by the fact that Egan has apparently based his entire article and his understanding of the complex and very fair Italian legal system on the opinion and hearsay of one other journalist.

And one who was absurdly in the wrong, as any observer with a brain can see.

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Timothy Egan wrote another blog post the point of which appeared to be to get himself off the hook in face of wide criticism without SEEMIN to get himself off the hood in the face of wide criticism.

Coming up next: our review of that second post.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 06/16/09 at 09:04 PM | #

Here is an excerpt from the Seattle Times dated January 24, 2009, announcing a fundraiser for Knox. Note the reference to “independent investigator” Paul Ciolino. The same man who conducted a misleading re-enactment of witness testimony on the CBS infomercial,48HRS,presented as an independent investigator by the host. MAMA MIA indeed!

“The fundraiser is from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at Salty’s on Alki, 1936 Harbor Ave. S.W., Seattle. The event will include dinner and a silent auction as well as a presentation by Paul Ciolino, who organizers say is an American investigator who has scrutinized the Knox case. Suggested donation for the event is $100 per plate.

RSVP to Marti McGaughey: (206) 406-0234 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).”

Posted by jennifer on 06/16/09 at 11:48 PM | #

Egan has done nothing but fan the flames of xenophobic ignorance that have dogged this tragic case from the start. To make matters worse, he has given more free publicity to fellow journalist/writer Doug Preston, who was one of the first to see the upside of hitching his wagon to Amanda Knox’s rising star.

Now Andrew Cohen, on the Vanity Fair blog, has weighed in with a plug. He mentions that the New York Times is NOW covering this case and, as proof, offers a link to Egan’s blog! I guess Rachel Donadio’s factual articles on the case, which have appeared in the New York Times, don’t count. Is it because she’s a girl?

Seriously, what’s up with these guys? Is it just my imagination, or are they using their privileged access to the media mainly to scratch one another’s backs?

Posted by Skeptical Bystander on 06/17/09 at 12:25 AM | #

Maybe if AK and RS were not standing outside the cottage with a mop and bucket the morning after the murder
Maybe if RS did not change his story about AK being with him all night
Maybe if the homeless person had not seen AK & RS the night of the murder
Maybe if the shop owner had not seen AK the morning after the murder
Maybe if bleach and the 2 receipts had not been found in RS’s apartment
Maybe if AK and Meredith’s DNA had not been on a knive hidden in a box under RS’s bed
Maybe if RS’s computer had shown human activity the night of the murder
Maybe if AK & RS’s phones had not been turned off
Maybe if phone records showed a received call from RS’s father the night of the murder

Maybe if all of these did not exist, AK and RS would not be in prison and Egan would not have anything to write about!

Posted by BARBM on 06/17/09 at 05:45 AM | #


Are TJMK going to sum up the prosecutions case and look at why certain facts weren’t brought up in trial and the possible reason behind it?

It would be really interesting to be able to seperate the myths from the facts and look at what kind of case the prosecution made.

Is that something you’re planning on in the near future?

Posted by mikeyverve on 06/17/09 at 03:45 PM | #

Hi Mikey. Yes an overview of the prosecution’s case is really vital and we really cannot be without it.

It has been a lot of work compiling but we hope to have it up later today.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 06/17/09 at 03:50 PM | #

Regarding BARBM’s comment - I have been surprised (and disappointed) that some of these critical points have not been pursued in the trial: some of them seem not to have been mentioned at all or at least not put directly to Knox:

Maybe if AK and RS were not standing outside the cottage with a mop and bucket the morning after the murder
*This is the original fact that really drew me into the case but it seems not to have been pursued in the trial despite evidence (lack of Knox’s fingerprints anywhere except the kitchen sink) of a clean up. Now it appears the mop and bucket were not considered important and were not collected as evidence by the police? what?

Maybe if bleach and the 2 receipts had not been found in RS’s apartment
*Again, this is an original fact that really drew me into the case but it seems not to have been brought up in the trial at all (only the Conad store employee’s recollection of seeing Amanda) what - why were the receipts for bleach not entered as evidence at the trial?

Maybe if AK and Meredith’s DNA had not been on a knive hidden in a box under RS’s bed
*Confused by this point and seeking clarification - where was the knife found? Most news reports are saying “in RS’s apartment” but not “hidden in a box under his bed” - there is a big difference in knowing where it was found.

Posted by ragazza americana on 06/17/09 at 06:30 PM | #

Hi ragazza. I suspect this could be said of most trials. The prosecutors are reading the judge and jury and adjusting and fine-tuning as they go. One of the reasons OJ Simpson did not get convicted over the death of his wife and her friend was that Marcia Clark bored her jury silly.

Kermit in Powerpoints #13 listed 150 questions for Knox and he knew that would take a week of Knox on the stand. By the end of saturday Mignini had Knox looking not so sympathetic, as Fiori and Nicki posted, and to press on might have cost him that advantage.

It came out only at trial that the knife was in the knife tray hiding in plain sight. There were many small surprises for us like this. Despite the claims, the prosecution never really leaked its case, though Micheli did write his report and there were those many public hearings.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 06/17/09 at 06:47 PM | #

Thanks, Pete for the response and clarification of the knife’s location. I haven’t heard the final testimony from Saturday so maybe there was something more final and clenching than I’ve heard so far but have to believe that the bleach receipts and red-handed mop discovery provide more riveting testimony than the hours of technical computer and cell phone records that were dwelt upon in this trial. Just hoping the strongest case possible is being made.

Posted by ragazza americana on 06/17/09 at 07:22 PM | #

The way I understand it ragazza is that some of the points BARBM made were incorrect but this is the trouble with the information that was flying around the internet in the lead up to the trial - it’s easily done.

That’s why I asked if there was to be a post summing up the case and it sounds like TJMK have been on that for a while.

1. Why the mop and bucket weren’t analysed is beyond me as well. Maybe they did analyse it and found nothing.

2. The clean up doesn’t seem to have been brought up in court either, depsite footprints being uncovered with luminol. On the fingerprints, I believe a print expert said they only found around 50 recognisable prints but there were others. I can’t recall if any were Knox’s.

3. The receipts was another myth I think. If they had receipts from the shop showing the purchase of two bottles of bleach the morning after the murder, it would have come up in court. You’d have to be crazy to leave that one out, so I take it that was another myth.

4. The knife was found in a drawer in the kitchen, not in a shoebox. It took me a while to get to the bottom of this one but that story was flying about originally.

I’m disappointed certain things haven’t been brought up and I believe that’s the end of the prosecution’s case.

I’d like to have seen things like Knox’s two stories for why they needed the mop and bucket. One reason in her email was that Sollecito had spilt water while making dinner and the other that a pipe had burst, which I believe she said to the police.

You don’t forget why you had a mop and bucket.

The only reason for it is that it was a fabricated story, Knox couldn’t remember what story she’d given initially and got caught on a lie.

That for me, if it’s not one of the many myths, is almost proof that they were involved in some way. That may sound extreme but I can’t think of any rational explanation for why any person would get confused about something like that.

One thing that continues to puzzle me though is the lack of evidence in Meredith’s bedroom. No hair, blood, DNA - except for Sollecito’s on the bra clasp. I can’t get away from that one. Hearing the rest of the evidence though, I’m certain they were involved so there has to be an explanation.

I’ve believed for a while that Knox wasn’t in the room when the murder took place so that would explain why hers wasn’t, but I do believe Sollecito was so why is the DNA on the bra clasp the only evidence he was in that room?

Also, it’s said that Knox, Sollecito and Guede left bloody footprints, which were only uncovered with luminol. Why were all three’s footprints not uncovered with luminol somewhere in the bedroom where I presume the source of the blood came from?

We know that someone stepped in blood as the evidence is right there on the bathmat. The prosection says it was Sollecito’s, so why’s it not in the bedroom?

I’ll have to stop myself because I could go on forever with this but just to say that you’re right, there has to be a good explanation for why certain things weren’t brought up in court. Maybe TJMK will shed some light on it.

Posted by mikeyverve on 06/17/09 at 09:57 PM | #

Hi Mikey. The summary of the case is looking good but needs more checking, so we should get it up late tonight US time, early morning Europe time, to hang there tomorrow.

It might be worth recalling that Judge Micheli found the evidence from the autopsy and forensics and the crime scene in general - especially the moving of Meredith several hours after the murder - so powerful that he concentrated mostly on that.

Not more than three months after the end of this trial, too, if there are guilty verdicts, there will be a huge report in Italian, explaining all of the reasoning, and listing what evidence DID matter.

We only summarized some portions of Judge Micheli’s report and not the toughest parts, and it went into extraordinary detail. A very tough read, and several of our Italian speakers were in tears.

The prosecutors’ summation at the end should tie all the threads together and could take two or three days.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 06/17/09 at 11:29 PM | #

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