The Responses To That Letter

Media, Observatory

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.

20 comments on “The Responses To That Letter”

  1. Diogenes says:

    Amanda Knox was NOT found completely innocent. She was convicted of criminal slander, as she falsely accused Patrick Lumumba of being the murderer.

    She spent a few years in the big house for that crime.

    No amount of white-washing will change the fact that she is a convicted criminal.

  2. admin says:

    Good point – thank you.

  3. Pat Bateman says:

    Claiming that someone was jailed for their part in a murder when they in fact had nothing to do with the murder is a plain case of libel.

    It’s not in a grey area. It’s not borderline.

  4. Pat Bateman says:

    Nor is Amanda ‘the main suspect’. The main suspect, Rudy Guede, the actual killer, is in jail.

  5. admin says:

    I think in the eyes of the public she’s certainly been painted as the main suspect. To wrongly accuse someone of murder while under investigation is hardly having ‘nothing to do with the murder’. But this is off-topic – the subject is the sale of memoirs.

  6. FabienneT says:

    I think your views on this are expressed in a well-constructed, intelligent and thought-provoking manner.

    And yes, unfortunately, self-censorship is rife. I myself do not express certain opinions I have (be it online or when I meet people) because I know I would get a barrage of self-righteousness, my opinions being very different on certain topics to what is deemed as “acceptable” by polite society!

    Well done for denouncing the (again, not surprising) questionable actions of Harper Collins.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    Memoirs are a person’s version of events in which they were involved. Sometimes they are written to justify actions which the public has, perhaps erroneously, condemned and sometimes to reveal background events or feelings which the public hasn’t heard of before. They are always written to make the writer look good, or at least better, in the reader’s eyes and you have to remember that when reading. I won’t read MS Knox’ memoir because I didn’t follow the story in the first place, but if I had been following it I might read the book to see what she has to say for herself away from the courts. We have had a series of absolutely ghastly murders of prostitutes and while I don’t particularly care to hear from the convicted man the explanations of the difficulties surrounding the investigation have been interesting as an inquiry proceeds. You pick & choose your memoirs. Everyone knows that being found innocent in a court of law does not leave you as clear as you were before, even though it should and that is often why people want to read memoirs of those events.

  8. Dan Terrell says:

    Helen very clearly and well said.

  9. Gretta says:

    We have two ongoing cases here which have their base in the 1990s. David Bain(who was accused, found guilty, appealed, retried and acquitted of murdering his family in Dundedin), and Peter Ellis(who was convicted for child sex offences in Christchurch). There were major questions before, during and after both cases, but it is interesting to note which one the media/publishers have consistently considered to be the most ‘viewer/reader friendly’, while the other is virtually ignored.

    Also reminded that an autobiography was brought out by Macsyna King, the mother of twin babies who had been killed, for which she and her then partner blamed eachother. For once, the media’s word du jour ‘outrage’ was pretty close to the actual public reaction to this book being published, especially only a couple of years after the deaths.

    Surely there has to be some sort of moral line to draw, otherwise what separates publishers from the scandal-rag redtops. Or am I just being hopelessly idealistic?

  10. Gretta says:

    Dunedin, that should read. All these cases are extensively written about on WIki, if anyone’s interested.

  11. Alan Morgan says:

    Psychoville, Paper Boy – tomato, tomato. ;0)

  12. Mark says:

    I’m not convinced that you genuinely feel there is something “questionable” or “unpalatable” IN AND OF ITSELF about the publishing of Knox’s memoir.

    Frankly, you appear to be cloaking the same malice I’ve seen for the last 4-odd years from a small, shrill and persistant group of “guilt campaigners” in a pseudo-intellectual ‘impartiality’.

    In fact, your intent could hardly be clearer when you use loaded turns of phrase like “making money from the main suspect in a murder case” – you really aren’t as subtle as you think.

    There is nothing remotely ‘unethical’ (let alone immoral) about either her or Harper Collins’ intent.

  13. admin says:

    Mark – I have no interest in Knox’s culpability. She is the person upon whom the media has seized in a murder case. As I’ve explained, my issue is that the publisher is not buying a case study but something that will inevitably be a one-sided account by a deeply involved party. When OJ Simpson had his book published he had been acquitted of murder, and his publisher traded on the public’s continued suspicion for sales, notoriety being a good motor for revenue.

    Perhaps you’re right and it’s merely deeply distasteful that Knox should shop her book around. In the UK I think I’m right in saying that it’s not possible for convicted felons to make money from books, and she was convicted of lying to the police. It’s clearly an emotive topic, and the steady blurring of fact and fiction in the public mind something that has been bothering me for a long time.

  14. Pat Bateman says:

    Amanda Knox is not a fictional character. She is a real person. With very real lawyers. Your statements about her have been libellous. It’s more than clear that you think Knox is guilty, no matter how you think you’re skating on the right side of the law. You might want to take some legal advice yourself.

  15. Phil says:

    Pat, a large portion of the general public think that ‘Foxy Knoxy’ is guilty, the retrial & her various testimonies are deeply suspect. The sad thing is that she and her publishers stand to make an awful lot of money off the back of a truly dreadful murder. Distasteful.

  16. Pat Bateman says:

    The ignorant and bigoted may think that, no doubt.

    Of course, thinking is one thing, writing is another. As Christopher may be finding out soon.

  17. Diogenes says:


    Knox is guilty. She was convicted of criminal slander for accusing an innocent person of being the murderer. It’s hilarious of you to accuse other people of being ignorant and bigoted when Knox was jailed for criminal slander.

  18. admin says:

    Well, thanks for the threats Pat. I think your adoption of the ‘American Psycho’ handle was a step too far for me.

    It’s precisely this litigious attitude that damages free discussion. If I genuinely cared either way about Knox’s culpability I would have written the piece about her, not Harper Collins. This is a site by a writer, mainly about books, their publication and presentation.

    I think that to save endless reiteration of the main intent, we can draw a line under this and move on.

  19. Julian says:

    Have to admit I was taken aback by your letter, but am in agreement with you. Aside from anything else, the book deal must be incredibly hurtful for the family of the victim. This may be stretching an agrument too far, but at the time when News Corp companies are being investigated for illegal intrusion into personal lives, its own Harper Collins is helping to extend the grief of Kerchner’s family for purely financial gain. Of course other publishers bring out similar tripe, but it doesn’t make this right.

  20. Dan Terrell says:

    $$$ No matter how you add it up. $$$$$ Ever since 12/1952 when Confidential made it’s appearance “sinsation” has flooded everything. $$$$$$$ Pssst, Brad Pitt needs a haircut or Angie will walk! $$$$$$$$$$$$…..Psst…

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