Well, THAT was an interesting exercise! ‘An Open Letter To Harper Collins’ generated five times the normal amount of mail ranging from the outraged to the unprintable. I had to weed out the comments carefully, something I don’t usually do, in order to get a proper range to them – there were some which were deeply offensive, but the majority understood my target – not Amanda Knox herself, whose degree of culpability no-one has any way of knowing – but the idea of a respected publishing house making money from the main suspect in a murder case.
In the event, Knox now has carte blanche to rewrite any part of the story she chooses or, I suspect, will minimise any mention of the events leading to the case in order to concentrate on her jail ordeal (here I’m going by past similar cases).
Although I was careful to mention that Knox was acquitted throughout the piece, one reader accused me of libel for the phrase ‘jailed for her part in the murder’ – but if that’s not what she was jailed for, why was she in prison? The same reader also complained that my letter had been picked up by an anti-Knox hate group. Unfortunately that’s a by-product of freedom of expression. State an opinion and someone may use it against someone else, which is why so much of the internet is anodyne and self-censored. We don’t need state control – thanks to Facebook paranoia everyone does the state’s job for them.
Knox’s role in the tragedy is the least interesting part of the story. What’s under scrutiny here is the questionable act of commissioning a book from the suspect solely on her notoriety. If two terrorists blow up a train and one terrorist – let’s say for the sake of argument he’s completely innocent – is paid to write a book about the act, would that be morally defensible?
The investigation into press bribes faces the same thorny problem. Should witnesses be paid for their side of the story, and at what point does it become an incentive? Society has changed so that notoriety is considered the equal of fame. It’s not. But the blurring of the lines between fact and fiction on TV and in the press turns genuine tragedy into entertainment. I deliberately mentioned the OJ Simpson book as a benchmark of this ‘tragedy as entertainment’ phenomenon. In his case there was never any other suspect, and virtually everyone involved in the trial got a book deal from it. You can’t blame the participants for making money from what was, in effect, a long-running hit TV show. But Harper Collins is to be castigated by happily extending this practice.
And it seems Ms Knox has actively sought to sell her story – if she was wrongly jailed then it’s entirely understandable that she would wish to correct the misconceptions about her. But lately there has been a new keenness to retell events of recent history in depoliticised non-intellectual formats, concentrating on the heart at the expense of the brain. So ‘The Iron Lady’ is about an old lady with Alzheimer’s rather that the fascinating story of a societal change that it could have been.
And let’s not be disingenuous. The case has all the things we expect from entertainment; pretty girl, sex, murder, flawed judicial system, so why wouldn’t publishers fight to cash in? But doing so because somebody will doesn’t make it any more palatable.