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Sex, Murder, and Media Sensationalism: Amanda Knox and Meredith Kercher

June 12, 2009
Meredith Kercher
Image via Wikipedia

In the Seattle area where I currently live, most of the local news coverage of the murder of Meredith Kercher in Italy has focused on the efforts of Amanda Knox‘s family to clear her name and bring her home. This is not only because Amanda Knox was a University of Washington student, but also because her family lives in the area. Unfortunately, many other media outlets have chosen to use this story as an opportunity to titillate readers by focusing on sex, drugs, and supposedly sexy nicknames that actually have nothing to do with sex.

A typical example of this sensationalism is the headline on this Telegraph story about Knox’s trial testimony: Amanda Knox ‘had sex and smoked cannabis on night of Meredith Kercher murder’. While both acts mentioned in the headline occurred, neither was the focus of her testimony, nor are they particularly important for determining her guilt or innocence in her former roommate’s death. The headline instead zeroes in on the aspect of the murder most likely to shock or, more disturbingly, arouse readers.

This sort of coverage is troubling on a few levels. First, it disrespects Meredith Kercher by turning the circumstances of her death into an opportunity for titillation. Second, it increases that chances that even if Amanda Knox is acquitted she will face discrimination and disdain in the future; it will be difficult for her to overcome the image that has been created of her as a drugged-up sex fiend. Finally, it contributes to a more generally sexist climate in which women are viewed primarily as sex objects yet slut-shamed if they fulfill this role.

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  1. colin99 permalink
    June 12, 2009 6:01 pm

    Knox is also victim to an antiquated view that women are bound to ‘hysteria’ based on uncontrollable urges emanating from their reproductive organs, leading to disillusion and illogical thought.

  2. June 13, 2009 12:03 pm

    For anyone who is interested in the facts behind the media spin, and who cares to learn more about the victim of this terrible murder – Meredith Kercher – there is an excellent discussion board

    as well as an interesting blog

    These online resources are not for profit. Anyone can read and/or participate and people from around the world do. They have followed this case since November 2007, and are in no way related to Amanda Knox. Nor are they her friends.

  3. wannabe permalink
    June 19, 2009 3:33 am

    I dont know who it was that made the conclusion how the murder happened, but how can a conclusion be taken as the way it really happened when it was a mere conclusion, speculation, gut feeling? Other speculations are possible as well. Besides this conclusion was given before they even had all the facts. Maybe they are all guilty and maybe none of them are guilty and the real killer is still free? Why not speculate on another way it could have happened? It seems like the conclusion given out to the public was taken as the only truth right from the beginning without even having any real proof. For example, it was said that the only person who could have opened the door was Amanda, when Meredith could have opened the door herself? What if Amanda and Sollecito arrived that evening but after Meredith had already been killed? If that were the real truth then it could be understandable why thier alibis dont check. They could have arrived after she was already killed, didnt know what had happened, saw all the mess and went and checked on her, and while checking on her, moving her to see if she was still alive and then got blood on themselves? if that happened they might have thought they could not say they were there until after Meredith had already been killed because no one would believe them, so out of panic, they could have thought best to just wash up and let someone else find the scene. That would explain the blood and DNA found of them. Why havent the other flatmates been investigated? What about the boys that lived below? Also it could have been one single killer who strangles at one moment, held her at another moment and stabbed her at another moment? Why has the conclusion of how things happened been taken so easily as the only truth? This does not seem fair, not fair to the family of Meredith, not fair to the people being accused, since the main issue should be to find the real killer and not just incriminate by gut feeling or by what seems more logical. I would think crimes are never logical.

  4. ti cote permalink
    June 19, 2009 4:10 am

    another embarrassing case of a pretty woman, caught red-handed, taking a bunch of fools all to hell with her insane lies.”i’m innocent” and “the police beat me”. yeah, right; its just so bogus. her fingerprints are on the murder weapon & if people are just too highly educated to get it about that fact,and they believe her, or believe in her then they should rot in jail along with. she did it & she’s going down for it. american women are all about this ‘divorce lawyer’ mentality like: no its not black its white and no its not hot its cold now, and how if you tell the lie often enough in the right media outlets it magically becomes true. lets help get this creepy chick off the streets and behing bars where she belongs. sorry ma & dad you raised a monster.

  5. June 19, 2009 8:52 pm

    wannabe and ti cote, this post isn’t about the question of Ms. Knox’s guilt or innocence: it’s about media coverage that focuses specifically on sensational or sensationalized aspects of the crime. If you want to discuss guilt or innocence, you should probably find another forum.

    ti cote: when you say “american women are all about this ‘divorce lawyer’ mentality like: no its not black its white and no its not hot its cold now, and how if you tell the lie often enough in the right media outlets it magically becomes true”, you are making a gross misogynistic generalization. You are essentially saying that all American women are liars. By bringing in the phrase divorce lawyer, you suggest that they lie most commonly to gain favorable divorce settlements (no doubt you consider this to be a way of stealing from men). This sort of nonsense has no place on a feminist blog, and I have only left it up because it illustrates so aptly how sexism has played a role in shaping public opinion in this case.

    • ti cote permalink
      July 15, 2009 4:45 am

      ekswitaj: i feel lousy for the nasty tone of my post concerning amanda knox. just now reading your reply i just felt confused & finally just figured that i was totally unfairly misdirecting my own anger about my own life experiences (weirdly enough tho not about me ever going thru a divorce). pretty sad, i mean what, a month later i figure this out. anyways, maybe the thing about the media coverage in this case is just like the media is cynical, they just want to move copy, right? and they play to peoples nasty side. maybe too is that people consider her fair game at such tactics just because she’s been accused. but it is true that whatever the outcome she will be sort of always seen by certain people to be guilty. but to bring up her sexual behavior is unfair, not really the point at all.

      • July 15, 2009 5:13 am

        I appreciate this reply a lot.

        Media coverage like we have been seeing plays to people’s nasty sides, but also to their fears and pain. It’s easy to grab onto a story that seems to echo the worst we know about other people; doing so can be part of the healing process, of realizing that we are not alone.

        Unfortunately, because of this, because they sell, the same sorts of stories get repeated again and again (even if they are ultimately unfair to the individuals involved) creating a picture in which everyone-of-a-certain-type becomes viewed as the enemy. This is what makes it so insidious and harmful on a broad, social level.

  6. rlashmore permalink
    June 20, 2009 12:09 am

    I am certain she’s innocent.
    But I wonder if she may have gone home for a while that night (totally innocently)…
    maybe she had an argument with Rafael who originally said she may
    have disappeared…if so…
    it would be natural to panic…after discovering what she did the next morning
    I am certain the police have tainted some evidence in the period where
    there was an enormous public outcry and they went back either 4 or 6 weeks later..
    It begs belief that a girl would just chuck a murder weapon under the bed she often sleeps in and (do cartwheels?…yoga) at the police station..
    her unconcerned demenour afterwards really shows….unconcern

  7. June 20, 2009 4:28 am

    rlashmore and everyone else:

    I repeat, this is not the place to discuss Ms. Knox’s guilt or innocence. This is a post about media sensationalism. If you want to contribute to that discussion, please comment.

    If you want to discuss her guilt or innocence, please find a more appropriate forum or start your own. Any further comments that do not address the topic at hand will be deleted.

  8. July 1, 2009 2:26 pm

    Seriously, folks, read the post. If you want to talk about guilt v. innocence, I’m sure you’re more than capable of starting your own blog.

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