Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Mail Online: The Amanda Knox Case

The Mail Online, electronic organ of the loathsome Daily Mail, has sunk to new lows. Yesterday the trial came to an end in Italy of Amanda Knox, accused of murdering British student Meredith Kercher. Attempting to scoop the verdict, the Mail Online published a pre-written piece the moment the judge said the word "guilty."

Unfortunately though, the Mail was caught out by the judge finding Ms Knox guilty of slander, before clearing her of the murder charge. At the sound of the judge's first "guilty" they simply hit the 'publish' button.

The Mail's piece included a description of the defendant's ashen face after the guilty verdict had been read out against the murder charge. It also considered the likelihood of Ms Knox's appeal against her murder sentence; the probability of the appeal's rejection; and the speculation she'd be placed on suicide-watch. Reactions of both girls' families were described, the victim's relatives staring stonily ahead, the defendant's in tears; prosecutors were said to be delighted. Of course, none of this actually happened.

It's one thing to prepare two draft outcomes for court stories; in news journalism this is standard practice. But the Mail simply fictionalised the entire episode. Had the murder verdict been 'guilty', the dishonesty of the piece would have stayed undetected. The mistake isn't just about a pre-written story, the wrong boilerplate or predictive cliches. It's yet another in a long line of the Mail's unmitigated ethical disgraces.

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