In the wake of the re-conviction, there is much speculation over what will happen to Ms. Knox, with the question, “Will she be extradited?” being constantly posed. Harvard Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz answered this question quite clearly, pointing out that Ms. Knox was not, in fact, subjected to double jeopardy, and if the conviction is upheld, the Italians will have the right to request her extradition.
"There are thousands of American people in jail today on the basis of far less evidence than was presented against Amanda Knox"
- Alan Dershowitz
Positive or even neutral coverage of accused individuals is a rare phenomenon. Indeed, many accused individuals have indeed been demonized by the press over history, which in turn colors public opinion negatively. Take for example the case of Richard Jewell, the man who spotted the second bomb at Atlanta’s Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympic Games. After initial positive coverage, which lauded him as a hero, he was accused of fitting the profile of an individual who, seeking the limelight, would have planted the bombs to appear to be a hero. He was promptly and publicly convicted in the court of public opinion as his mother’s home was raided by the FBI on live television. Though completely innocent, the damage to Mr. Jewell’s reputation had been done. Mr. Jewell had to sue the news networks in order to get reparations. Only the conviction of Eric Rudolph in 2005, only two years before Mr. Jewell’s death, led to his public exoneration.
Let me be clear, having not seen the evidence, I have no opinion on whether or not Ms. Knox is guilty of the crime she has been convicted of. What I wish to point out though is the utter hypocrisy of the American press in its coverage of her. Returning to West's observation regarding the asymmetric coverage victims of Newtown and drones, we see a close resemblance to the asymmetric coverage of Ms. Knox's perils and those of disadvantaged Americans whose stories are remarkably similar (e.g. forced or pressured confessions and overzealous prosecutors) within and undoubtedly American context. There is a lack of empathy from the news media, in part because it doesn’t believe the American public would demand it. That lack of empathy means that the press is failing the people who most need miscarriages of justice to be illuminated given their lack of access to the resources that Ms. Knox has had.
In no uncertain terms, the new media is a kingmaker of images, casting people in the roles that the public consciousness internalizes. It wields immense power, which it often fails to use responsibly or consistently.
Consider the US media’s charge that the Italian judicial system is dysfunctional. While this may very well be true, the US press fails to turn the lens of inquiry upon the US judicial and penal systems – which convict plenty of people on weak evidence, demand more extraditions than any other country, and incarcerate a larger percentage of its population than any other country.
Yet the multitude of suspects subjected to interrogations not unlike the one recounted by Ms. Knox, who has been buoyed by the deluge of support from the American press and public, are often crucified in the press, which refuses to cast any doubt to their negative image, which results in the public's negative view towards them. Most of the time, such individuals are placed into a narrative which presumes their guilt by underscoring their presumed likelihood of being a perpetrator.
To illustrate that point, we need to look no further than the aftermath of Richard Sherman’s outburst in the 2014 NFC Championship game, where he was subsequently labeled a thug. Mr. Sherman, educated at Stanford University, has an academic record that speaks for itself and has no record of deviant behavior and is certainly not a thug. Nonetheless, the epithet was quickly applied to him by some members in the media perhaps, as he astutely points out, as an alternative to the N-word. It is clear that the term which conveys an overtly negative set of imagery, which casts the person labeled with it in a criminal light. Take for example, the term’s use as applied to Trayvon Martin and his appearance, in which it was evoked, in part, to justify the outcome Martin received.
Returning to the Knox case, the US press does have a golden opportunity to shine a light on injustice. Perhaps, unlikely as it is, it can take a page out of the Amanda Knox playbook and apply it to its future coverage of the US penal system. I have no problems with the US press and commentators criticizing the process and challenging Ms. Knox’s legal outcomes. I do have a problem, however, with the US press glossing over the clear parallel reality that so many individuals face in the American criminal justice system.
I would hope that there can be some lessons learned from Amanda Knox’s very public judgment – the power of the press to characterize a person before and after the law has judged should not be underestimated. If we are to look at reforming our incredibly punitive and wasteful penal system, the press does have the power to move in that direction. It can start by using Amanda Knox’s case as a point of reference. As the US continues to stand behind Ms. Knox, they it position itself well in terms of creating a public awareness and demand for penal reform in the US.
Unfortunately, however, this is unlikely to come to pass. The press will most probably remain spineless, unprepared to shine the light on those who need it most, instead convicting them in the court of public opinion, as has historically been done. The hypocrisy will be cemented by media's refusal to call for Ms. Knox’s extradition, and consumers will remain indifferent.