Tuesday, December 16, 2008

US NBC TV’s Fair And Factual “Mystery of Meredith’s Murder”

Posted by Skeptical Bystander





The consensus here is that the NBC Dateline presentation a few days ago was the most balanced US media treatment of the case to date.

One of the first US network presentation, by CBS on its 48 Hours program, was particularly bad and the word is out now that CBS is wrapping up its second attempt. Maybe the CBS producer will take a page from the Dateline book - or at least lose Paul the plaintive PI this time around.

Dateline did an especially good job of cutting through the fog created by the media storm over this case since the first arrests were made on November 6, 2007.

Dateline also did a good job of laying out the basics in an objective and comprehensive manner for people with no prior knowledge. There just were a couple of factual errors””for example, that DNA was found on a tampon. In fact, the swab used to obtain such samples is called a “tampone” in Italian.

The Dateline program drew on some collaborative work by the posters on the PMF forum and predecessors. Here is the pleased observation of Kermit, a major contributor there and here.

A word of congratulations to all of us, the descendants of Steve Huff’s boards. What a surprise I had as I watched the Dateline show and saw, on the projected screen behind the presenters, our measurement analysis of the Double DNA knife.

It was obviously ours, as it came out of a discussion on the original board… concerning the length of the knife. At the time of that discussion in the spring, I dug up a Matrix screen shot of the knife (easily identifiable by the red “Matrix” tag in the upper lift. Since the ILE ruler didn’t go the whole length of the knife, I doubled it, then marked 17.5 cm length that I estimated the knife blade to be.

And now NBC has used that item. Such material, along with translations and analysis you just won’t find [other than on these forums]

The crack former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt, very widely respected here in the U.S., was the anchor crime analyst on the piece. Mr Van Zandt still thoughtfully interacts with people who post comments on his own excellent blog and he had this to say there of his role:

This case has been challenged by the family, friends and supporters of Knox, some who have spoken to me to provide their version of what happened and why Amanda is innocent.  As seen on the Dateline special, Knox’s family states what they believe as truth, although, of course, they were not there. 

I have received a ton of e-mail this past year with criticism for either supporting Knox or trying to convict her.  Neither, of course, is true.  Like many of you, I only want to see justice done for Meredith and want those responsible for her death held responsible the part they played in her death.

Another excellent blog, the Eclectic Chapbook, has been offering commentary on this case within its usual eclectic mix of posts on crime and literature from the outset.  No comments - or comment deletions, unlike the notorious Seattle PI reader’s blog which was a front for a secret book till we blew its cover. Just an excellent, straightforward presentation of the facts and the plot twists.

In reviewing the Dateline program, Eclectic Chapbook caustically remarks that NBC did not escape the PR-driven parent trap, and it played into the fiction that Amanda’s parents are what the PMF commenter DLW has referred to as a modern-day Ozzie and Harriet, the American TV icons of married bliss.

I have only one criticism of the show. One segment included an appearance by Amanda Knox’s biological parents together. I was very offended by it. I felt it was a deliberate attempt to mislead and deceive the public, because their joint appearance misrepresents the household and home environment from which Amanda Knox emerged before she traveled to Perugia.

From what I understand, Knox came out of a blended family. Each of her parents has remarried to other spouses. Amanda Knox’s home environment consisted of her biological mother and sister, plus her mother’s new spouse. This new spouse never appeared on the show at all, which I found very weird. I presume Knox may have some step-siblings, too, in addition to her natural sister.

The joint appearance by Amanda Knox’s biological parents came off as a sham, a charade and a fraud. It was an insult to the intelligence of the American Public. Blended families are not so unusual these days. I’m sure the American Public can cope with the issue

Early on, it was apparently decided that Knox’s biological parents made a better team in the role of parents on television and in press interviews, even though Curt Knox and Edda Mellas got divorced nearly twenty years ago (Amanda Knox is 21) and both have since married again.

They do sometimes look like strangers thrown together by fate. Which, come to think of it, is pretty close to reality..

Posted by Skeptical Bystander on 12/16/08 at 12:01 AM in News media & moviesGreat reporting

Comments

As reflected in some previous comments and posts, there is a certain amount of sympathy here for the tough plight of the biological parents. And puzzlement over their particular defense strategy.

Amanda Knox’s stepfather (his name is Chris Mellas, right?) presided over Amanda, if that’s the right term, for many more years than Curt Knox, who is her real father.

The stepfather has to have been a huge influence on Amanda’s emerging psychology in her formative years. And yet, it is almost as if he is living in a cave while all this plays out.

It would certainly be very interesting for all of us to finally set eyes on him, and to hear how he handled his stepfather responsibilities toward Amanda. A job for the CBS network obviously, though don’t hold your breath.

Photos of Amanda Knox hugging her real dad suggest that the two of them remain very close. If anyone in Seattle could email us some shots of the stepfather, that’d be very much appreciated.

Well done, NBC by the way. And Clint van Zandt really shines.

Posted by Fast Pete on 12/16/08 at 01:24 AM | #

Great overview Skep.  Perhaps David Marriott at the PR firm took one look at the MySpace page for Chris Mellas and simply told him to go hide.  Although long time readers of all the blogs have seen his sometimes obscene presence with his buddy, Goofy.  Does the PR firm approve?  Edda?  Curt? The legal team? I wonder…

(FROM CHRIS MELLAS, MY SPACE PAGE)
About me: hmmm…well…I cook better than anyone ( I like the way I cook and I am able to meet the needs of my taste buds better than anyone else…most of the time) I like fishing… I like my boat… I like my beer… I live life by one saying…If you want it, get it, or never speak about it again because it is your responsibility to make it happen and you have NO ONE else to blame but yourself if you dont. It’s truely that simple. About my life: I am married, happily, and I have two kids by marriage, Amanda and Deanna. They are both shitheads and I love them anyways. Deanna is a senior now in HS and Amanda is on her second year in college. They are both cool. They, as we all do, have their fair share of quirks… but we would all be white bread boring as hell if we didn’t. My wife, Edda, is a…well, some sort of teacher, teaching teachers how to teach reading….yeah, I know. She is a total book worm nerd…poster girl for book worms. (aspires to be a librarian…no shit!) She is cute, annoying, sexy, and also a shithead. She also hates fishing but will, on rare occasions, go fishing with me…if it includes a FULL day at the spa immediately following the outting. She bites her nails too much too…we cant all be perfect. hehehe We are polar opposites (I am slow and methodical, she is a “multitasker” that will start three different sentences at the same time and not finish any of them but still expect you to get the message) Anyways…thats my life and what I am all about.

Posted by Tara on 12/16/08 at 01:56 AM | #

Lets face it, a stepfather who presents himself the way he has is an embarrassment. The most sensible thing to do is to keep him in hiding away from any media. To parade this man on TV or to let him be interview is just too risky. The man is incapable of uttering words without being vulgar.

Posted by Jools on 12/16/08 at 02:27 AM | #

But otherwise, he was a great influence on Amanda Knox? Made her all that she is today?

Actually, this is the first time I’m reading that passage, and it’s frankly pretty alarming stuff.

I see the Google search spider collected it up within five or ten minutes. Go to work now, CBS.

Posted by Fast Pete on 12/16/08 at 02:46 AM | #

To Chris Mellas’s credit, and to the credit of the other new spouse ,they are shouldering an enormous amount of the cost of Amanda’s parents expenses.  If they are all “mortgaged to the hilt” and have used up their retirement savings, I hope, for their sake, that the money isn’t being wasted by AK’s lying.

Posted by Arnold Layne on 12/16/08 at 04:02 PM | #

Thanks, once again, SkepticalBystander for the excellent article.

I agree with Fast Pete that a perhaps more realistic portrait of Amanda could be obtained if Chris Mellas had been mentioned - he ceratinly had a great influence on AK, especially that she lived with him in her most formative years where she was learning about life, who she is, men, etc.

What I found offensive is not soi much that it was Edda & Curt (instead of Chris), but the parental pledge itself. It’s quite clever PR though - it breaks anyone’s heart (partent or child) to see parents suffer (especially if they are the hard-working, law-abiding, good-citizen types). We all know that children are not ALWAYS the products of the homes they come from; parents don’t have control over who their children will turn out to be (they have SOME influence, but that doesn’t mean they can decide who their children turn out to be). Nature/Nurture is a 50/50 game. The offensive part is using this heart-breaking position that AK’s parents have found themselves in to somewhat take the attention away from what AK may have actually done. This is emotional blackmail.

Posted by Socrates42 on 12/16/08 at 04:09 PM | #

“The offensive part is using this heart-breaking position that AK’s parents have found themselves in to somewhat take the attention away from what AK may have actually done. This is emotional blackmail.”

Agreed. And away from Meredith Kercher and her family who really are true victims and also paying huge costs.

Posted by Fast Pete on 12/16/08 at 05:44 PM | #

“To Chris Mellas’s credit, and to the credit of the other new spouse ,they are shouldering an enormous amount of the cost of Amanda’s parents expenses.  If they are all “mortgaged to the hilt” and have used up their retirement savings, I hope, for their sake, that the money isn’t being wasted by AK’s lying.” Arnold Layne

I am sure this is costing a lot, but I also think they have opted for the more expensive route and have appealed to the public for financial support. There is also a financial upside to all the publicity, since a brand name with international recognition is being created in the process.

I hate to bring this up again, but one also has to wonder about the cost - financial, emotional and physical - to Meredith’s surviving family. Once again, they have borne it silently. We haven’t heard or read about them being mortgaged to the hilt or breaking their piggy banks.

Posted by Skeptical Bystander on 12/16/08 at 06:19 PM | #

“There is also a financial upside to all the publicity, since a brand name with international recognition is being created in the process.”

Amanda sits in the clink for 30 years while her “friends” retire young? A guilty verdict would fit in just nicely…

Posted by Fast Pete on 12/16/08 at 06:32 PM | #

“Amanda sits in the clink for 30 years while her “friends” retire young? A guilty verdict would fit in just nicely…

Posted by Fast Pete on 12/16/08 at 09:32 AM | #”

If I put myself in the position of some of those “friends”; college and high school chums betrayed and lied to if Knox is found guilty, I, as a friend and staunch supporter might be quite angry about all the time and energy I spent defending my good friend’s honor. I would wonder for the rest of my life how I could have mis-judged such a foul human being.  I might harbor extreme guilt that I didn’t see it coming. I think I might seek some help myself to deal with my feelings.  I might even need to get away from everyone to sort out the impact my good friend’s actions have had on my life, not to mention the impact on Meredith Kercher’s family.  I’ll need some extra money to pay for all of this help and travel.

When the press comes a calling after the verdict to get my take on my good friend, and how it feels to have hung around a killer, I might be inclined to voice my opinions. It might help me heal and move on with my life.

Posted by Tara on 12/16/08 at 07:39 PM | #

Wow. This perhaps hints at, or hypothesizes, a growing unease within Seattle? Any clear breaks yet from the party line?

Very nice city, Seattle. Seriously. One of the best. One of the highest-IQ towns in the world. Liberal and caring. Good university. And great fish.

Yes, I could imagine all of Seattle coming to feel distinctly let down and used if the verdict is guilty, and is seen to be guilty.

As Deathfish2000 wrote here recently on the PR campaign: “Plan A seems to be failing - and there seems to be no other plan.”

Posted by Fast Pete on 12/16/08 at 08:02 PM | #

“Wow. This perhaps hints at, or hypothesizes, a growing unease within Seattle? Any clear breaks yet from the party line?” - Fast Pete


It is hard to say what the climate is like in Seattle because the PR machine seems to have pretty much put a lock on the local comments boxes. For instance, on the big blog, Monica Guzman’s lightweight and superficial fluff pieces on this case no longer include space for comments. It should be noted that comments are allowed for all the other subjects she covers.

Shifting over to the reader blog side, Candace Dempsey ostenibly encourages comments but deletes so frequently and yet so incoherently that her blog is hard to follow. It seems that most of the comments allowed to stand these days are her own, and many of them are about the weather in Seattle and other small talk subjects.

So you do get a feel for the climate in a way, but sticking your head out the window or going for a walk works just as well.

The bottom line is that working through the traditional media (even in blog form) to manipulate public opinion doesn’t work any more. People are not easily duped and have multiple sources of information. Not allowing comments, or deleting whatever doesn’t suit your worldview - and being observed doing just that - is a strategy that discredits everyone associated with it.

Posted by Skeptical Bystander on 12/16/08 at 09:43 PM | #

Clint Van Zandt definitely deserves praise and recognition for his objective coverage of the Meredith Kercher case. When somebody with Clint’s expertise and experience as an FBI profiler says that there is a “difficult road ahead for the two remaining suspects” and that their behaviour was “highly telling” you sit up and take notice.

Why has the Seattle Post-Intelligencer suspended all comments about the case? It smacks of censorship. The press are supposed to be the lamps that show democracy is working. They certainly shouldn’t attempt to silence the voice of the people because they don’t like what the majority of people are saying.

It would be interesting to find out if the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s decision to gag their readers’ opinions about the case had anything to do with Amanda Knox’s parents or the PR company that they hired.

Posted by The Machine on 12/16/08 at 11:07 PM | #

Regarding AK’s friends & family and how they may feel if AK was indeed convicted, one can assume they will fall into, broadly speaking, two groups:

1) those who believe that the Italian court’s decision is the ‘Truth’, and will therefore feel betrayed by AK & resent their support for her.

2) those who will believe that DESPITE being convicted, she is still the victim of an unfair trial, and will therefore not budge one inch in terms of continuing their support for her, or at least, in terms of having sympathy for her.

As Clint quite rightly said on his blog, we may never ever know the absolute truth of what exactly happened that night, despite whatever judgements we may have formed, going by the evidence we have so far been provided with (his target was both sides: those who claim AK is innocent, and those who claim she isn’t).

Many innocent people have been convicted erroneously, and many criminals have walked away free. Given that the judicial system, like human beings themselves, is never perfect & fallable, we can only HOPE - for the victim’s sake & for her family’s sake - that the court’s final decision will also coincide with the Truth; because only when the ‘true’ murderes are condemned, that the victim’s ‘voice’ will finally be heard, and true justice be done.

As such, I submit to the view that the court’s decision maybe one thing, and the actual ‘truth’ another. I just hope, for Meredith’s sake & for her family’s sake, that the two will unite on January 16th. So whatever the court’s decision may be, I suspect that those who will claim to know the ‘truth’ (especially if this ‘truth’ they are claiming doesn’t coincide with what the court has ruled) will continue to voice their opinions beyond the trial.

Posted by Socrates42 on 12/17/08 at 04:43 PM | #

A good point by Socrates above. And yes there may be gray areas even after all the huge wave of evidence is finally un-dammed. This happens in some cases.

My own hunch in this case though is that (1) the evidence is going to be both conclusive and rather shocking and (2) those who dont agree with the verdict (which could be us!) will find themselves with only a very small megaphone, and essentially no constituency.

Posted by Fast Pete on 12/17/08 at 05:37 PM | #

“Actually, this is the first time I’m reading that passage, and it’s frankly pretty alarming stuff.

I see the Google search spider collected it up within five or ten minutes. Go to work now, CBS.

Posted by Fast Pete on 12/15/08 at 08:46 PM |”


cmon Pete don’t drop the ball now ... the staturely-challenged stepfather’s vomit was posted right here on 11/29/08 at 07:40 AM.

Posted by Fran Tarkenton on 12/17/08 at 09:15 PM | #

Hi Socrates,

It’s theoretically possible that the court’s decision will be wrong, but it’s highly unlikely that this will happen. The evidence has already been carefully examined by numerous judges and they all came to the same conclusion: there are serious indications of Amanda Knox’s and Raffaele’s Sollecito’s guilt.

Renato Biondo has provided independent confimation that the forensic investigation was carried out correctly and that the findings are accurate and reliable. He was quite unequivocal about the strength of the forensic evidence.

“The body of evidence is unshakable. We have analyzed hundreds of things and carried out thousands of tests and we haven’t overlooked anything.”

He went on to give high praise to the forensic scientists involved in the case:

“We are confirming the reliability of the information collected from the scene of the crime and at the same time, the professionalism and excellence of our work.”

The double DNA knife is highly incriminating evidence:

“The expert (Patrizia Stefanoni) responded to questions from the judge, the prosecutor and the victim’s family lawyer, as well as Sollecito’s lawyers. The presence of Meredith and Amanda’s DNA on the knife which is believed to be the murder weapon, was confirmed.” (Il Messaggero)

Talking of the double DNA knife, JuJu Chang said on ABC News that it had been essentially ruled out which is clearly not true. I suspect the reason that some people believe that Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are innocent is that they have been misinformed about the case by well-known figures in the media like JuJu Chang.

It’s about time that JuJu Chang and some of her contemporaries in the media actually researched the case properly and did not rely on their information from Curt Knox and Edda Mellas who can hardly be described as objective sources.

Posted by The Machine on 12/17/08 at 10:59 PM | #

Thanks Fast Pete & The Machine.
Agreed - there’s too much evidence to the constrary. But never under-estimate the power of denial, corruption, and highly-payed lawyers!

Posted by Socrates42 on 12/17/08 at 11:15 PM | #

Fran: “cmon Pete don’t drop the ball now ... the staturely-challenged stepfather’s vomit was posted right here on 11/29/08 at 07:40 AM.”

You’re quite right Fran. On the 29th I was two days away either way from a good internet connection in the Nevada deserts and Utah canyons. Well done Tara. Those two seem the only posts of this on the web, and seem to be very indicative of a disturbing environment at chez Mellas.

Posted by Fast Pete on 12/18/08 at 09:26 PM | #

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