PR/Media Week in Review 02-22-2009

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are a vexations to the spirit … Ben Franklin said. Fair bet that ol’ Lightnin’ Ben would not have sidled up to Mark Rose, Editor, PRBlogNews, PR/Media Week in ReviewRick Santelli, the over caffeinated CNBC financial pundit. Santelli’s rant on CNBC this week about the unconscionable stimulus for the loser homeowners who are dragging down capitalism with their wasteful ways, hit a nerve like dentist’s drill in a root canal. 

It is not that Santelli ranted, he does that often. It’s that the White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs responded in a press conference very specifically, with calculated emotion and a touch of humor. This sent CNBC financial pundits into bloviating glee as they circled the wagons to protect their own.

What this is really about can be summed up in a single word: ratings. The Santelli rant was supposedly the most emailed video in the blogosphere for the week and Santelli landed on the morning talk shows. The greatest insult to a ranter is to be ignored.

Robert Gibbs, White House Press SecretaryThe Obama administration also boosted its ratings because of this episode. Gibbs did not respond to Santelli entirely off the cuff. He periodically peered down as if he was reading message points. His nearly five minute response to Santelli was clear, concise and specific. On a broader scale he was answering all critics of the homeowner mortgage stimulus. Despite a sudden rash of attention, Gibbs neutralized Santelli, who will sound like a hurt kid in the schoolyard desperately vying for attention if he continues this tack.

Cogent Santelli slapdowns have come from an unlikely source – SeekingAlpha, the most popular finance blog. See a couple of posts: CNBC’s Specious Reporting on the Housing Plan and Rick Santelli: Critic or P.R. Man?

Amanda Knox, University of Washington student accused of murder in Perugia, ItalyPR? It’s murder.Can U.S. public relations influence the outcome of a murder trial across the Atlantic? The battle over Amanda Knox, dubbed Italy’s ‘Trial of the Century,’ ramped into high gear last week in a courtroom in Perugia, Italy.  This story has it all  – a vivacious American coed from University of Washington in Seattle, an alleged drug-fueled orgy that led to a grisly murder, conflicting testimonies and relentless spinning of stories to paint the accused, accomplices, prosecutors and legal authorities in a bad light.

Driving the U.S. push for Amanda Knox is a group of students, family and friends from Seattle called Friends of Amanda.  They are offered as  ‘character witnesses’ to the media. They proclaim Amanda’s innocence, present ‘facts’ of the case colored through their prism, and solicit donations through the Amanda Knox Defense Fund. 

The PR battle over Amanda Knox has become so heated that Italian prosecutor in the case Giuliano Mignini is reportedly suing the West Seattle Herald, a small community newspaper, for defamation.

Will these maneuvers impact the trial, expected to last at least six months? Last week the trial began in earnest and the PR spin ramped up. The Beastblogger Barbie Latza Nadeau is covering the case – see Sex and Murder in Italy - and the TV news shows are presenting frequent updates.

“I was asked by ‘Friends of Amanda’ to help turn around this supertanker of bad press over in Italy and get the truth out about Amanda’s innocence,” said Seattle attorney, Anne Bremner. “The prosecution has no forensic evidence at all. Zero. None.” – West Seattle Herald


  1. Anne Bremner says:

    February 23, 2009

    Can Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito get a fair trial?

    Misinformation and bias in reporting raises doubt, say Friends of Amanda

    A court in Perugia, Italy, has now heard five days of testimony in the trial of Amanda Knox and Raffaele. Sollecito. They are accused of murdering Knox’s British housemate, Meredith Kercher, in an alleged group sex game. A third man, Rudy Guede, has already been convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison for the murder.

    As the trial unfolds, it is clear to Friends of Amanda that the first priority of the prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, is to question Knox’s character, using witnesses whose acquaintance with her ranges from none at all to a few weeks at the most.

    While Knox and her lawyers have the opportunity to respond to these courtroom tactics, what they cannot address is the deluge of misinformation and biased reporting designed to inflame public opinion against both her and Sollecito.

    One striking example appeared recently in an article written for an online publication, the Daily Beast, by Barbie Nadeau, who has also been covering this case for Newsweek. She quotes from what purports to be Knox’s leaked prison diary, which Nadeau says has become a “steamy bestseller” in Italy. The quote reads as follows:

    That night I smoked a lot of marijuana and I fell asleep at my boyfriend’s house. I don’t remember anything. But I think it’s possible that Raffaele went to Meredith’s house, raped her and then killed. And when he got home, while I was sleeping, he put my fingerprints on the knife. But I don’t understand why Raffaele would do that.

    This sounds deeply incriminating – except those are not Knox’s words.

    Someone has produced a grossly distorted translation of the diary, which made its way into the hands of the media. Then someone else translated it back into English, with the result shown above.

    Here is what Knox actually wrote:

    Raffaele and I have used this knife to cook, and it’s impossible that Meredith’s DNA is on the knife because she’s never been to Raffaele’s apartment before. So unless Raffaele decided to get up after I fell asleep, grabbed said knife, went over to my house, used it to kill Meredith, came home, cleaned the blood off, rubbed my fingerprints all over it, put it away, then tucked himself back into bed, and then pretended really well the next couple of days, well, I just highly doubt all of that.

    If a badly translated diary, crafted to portray Knox and Sollecito in the most incriminating possible light, is a “steamy bestseller” in Italy, then how can these two possibly get a fair trial?

    Friends of Amanda want to have faith in the Italian justice system, but request that the authorities examine the “leak” of this “document”. Any purposeful mistranslation of documents to implicate Knox raises the specter that a fundamental lack of integrity in the dissemination of “evidence” may undermine public confidence in the perceptions of the prosecution of Knox and Sollecito.

    For more information about Knox and the case, visit: http//


    Who we are:

    Friends of Amanda is a group of people who are seeking a fair trial in court and in the court of public opinion for Amanda Knox. We are not affiliated with her family, and no one is paying us. We simply want to see justice.

  2. Skeptical Bystander says:

    Anne Bremner wrote:

    “If a badly translated diary, crafted to portray Knox and Sollecito in the most incriminating possible light, is a “steamy bestseller” in Italy, then how can these two possibly get a fair trial?”

    I don’t see the connection between the quality of this translation and the issue of whether or not a fair trial is possible. For one thing, I doubt that this diary entry will be used (in isolation or as part of a body of evidence) to convict Amanda Knox. Moreover, the criminal trial system and legal tradition in Italy are quite different from their US counterparts. The jury is not selected via the same process and is not sequestered. The trial takes place over a longer period, with sessions spaced several days apart. It is a truth-seeking process and not an adversarial process. Finally, defendents have two protections that they are not afforded in the US system: they can address the court at any time they want, with no fear of cross-examination, and there is no death penalty – no matter how heinous the crime. The belief in redemption and rehabilitation are iron-clad.

    “Friends of Amanda want to have faith in the Italian justice system, but request that the authorities examine the “leak” of this “document”. Any purposeful mistranslation of documents to implicate Knox raises the specter that a fundamental lack of integrity in the dissemination of “evidence” may undermine public confidence in the perceptions of the prosecution of Knox and Sollecito.”

    Again, that this document was purposefully mistranslated has not been demonstrated. Nor has the source of the so-called leak been established. When the diaries of Sollecito and Knox were released more than a year ago (and reported on by Barbie Nadeau in Newsweek), it was reported at the time that their own defense lawyers had done the releasing in order to aid the defendents. Indeed, Sollecito’s diary was sold to an Italian publication, La Nazione, for consideration. Is it even admissible as evidence in this trial?

    I was contacted privately by a member of the Knox/Mellas family last summer and asked if I would like to see the diary. One blogger (based in Italy) printed a photo of an actual page from it and another blogger (in Seattle) claims to have a complete copy of the diary. I doubt they were offered this document by the prosecution.

    The organization mentioned in Ms. Bremner’s post (FOA) mounted a slimy and ultimately unsuccessful campaign to “undermine public confidence in the perceptions of the prosecution of Knox and Sollecito”. Anyone who is interested in looking at the whole picture, as opposed to the partial view provided by the FOA and the Marriott PR firm hired by the Knox/Mellas family shortly after Meredith Kercher was brutally murdered in November 2007, should also check out the non-profit website True Justice for Meredith Kercher ( or the Perugia Murder File message board. Other useful resources include the following blogs: Eclectic Chapbook (by Button), Lies Our Mothers Told Us (by Miss Represented) and Perugia Shock (by Frank Sfarzo). All of these bloggers use pseudonyms.
    What Ms. Bremner does not mention is that a judge in King County, in the state of Washington, who is a personal friend of the Knox family, wrote a personal letter on official letterhead to ask for a change of venue. This letter was displayed on Bremner’s website but then pulled when it was clear that it had backfired. It has been reported since that Judge Michael Heavey wrote a second letter – not on official letterhead this time – apologizing for the first one.
    As for the ongoing attack on Dr. Mignini (the Italian prosecutor) spearheaded and driven by FOA, Knox’s own lawyers publicly asked that it cease and desist. The comments made may be protected speech in the US, but they did nothing at all for Amanda Knox and indeed may have hurt her. I am not talking about her chances of getting a fair trial – despite rumors to the contrary, I think consensus is that she is getting a fair trial and will be fully exonerated if innocent – but rather her image. You have to wonder sometimes if these people really are her Friends.

    Margaret Ganong (Skeptical Bystander)

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful story about the PR implications in this fascinating case.

    I am an Italian-American reporter who has been writing about the murder of British exchange student Meredith Kercher since she died in November 2007. My blog, Italian Woman at the Table, is hosted by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. My book about the case, Murder in Italy, will be published by Berkley Books, a division of Penguin, after the verdict.

    I don’t believe the diary, which I’ve read in the original English, was mistranslated on purpose. But errors in translation do paint a false picture of Amanda Knox’s actions in Perugia and of her statements to police. They also leave a false impression: That Knox thought Raffaele Sollecito could have killed Meredith Kercher. In fact, as noted above, her actual words show her scoffing at the very thought.

    I dished about the mistranslations here:

    Amanda Knox’s prison diary: What did she really say?

    Candace Dempsey

  4. Skeptical Bystander says:

    I don’t know anyone following this case who came away from reading the seemingly controversial paragraph believing that Knox was seriously entertaining the hypothesis that Sollecito might have snuck out while she slept, killed Meredith Kercher and then slipped the knife in her hand. As inept as the translation into Italian and then back into English was, it is pretty much a non-issue. The important sentence, in which Knox claims to have smoked a lot of marijuana and to have suffered a complete memory lapse because of it (?), is left out of the “original” version provided by FOA. And yet, the issue of cannabis and memory loss is very much alive in this case, since this is how both Knox and Sollecito have partly explained their inability to give convincing or consistent alibis. For what it is worth, in his own diary, Sollecito attributes his troubles to this exact same thing and vows to lay off cannabis forever.
    One of the posters on the Perugia Murder File board I co-moderate, an American who lives in Perugia and who works with students involved in study abroad, posted yesterday on this latest mini-controversy. His take is that Italians reading the press reports would not have gotten the wrong idea.
    Translating from source language (original) to target language and then back to source language is a perilous enterprise at best. And entrusting the task of translation to amateurs, whether to save money or just out of a naive belief that anyone with a passing knowledge of a foreign language can translate, generally leads to unsatisfactory and embarrassing results. Journalists and writers who don’t have the required level of expertise in a foreign language should not be translating material. I know bilingual people who pay professional translators when the need arises, because they know it is a special skill that they do not possess.
    Personally, I trust that the writer of the Daily Beast article knows what she’s doing and will clarify if needed. Both Barbie Nadeau and Andrea Vogt, who did additional reporting for this piece, are based in Italy and fluent in Italian.
    Their article contains far more than this one paragraph, and is well worth reading for other reasons.
    In answer to the question of whether or not the US-based PR effort will have an impact on the trial, I think the answer has to be no. I doubt that was ever its primary aim anyway.
    It is worth noting that the family of the victim, Meredith Kercher, have not spoken to the press except to read prepared statements expressing their total faith in the process and the prosecutor. They seem to be quietly and patiently waiting for the trial to play out. It must be agonizing.

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