The Amanda Knox case is another blow to the press

In the rush to be first, sometimes something - anything - will do.

News that Amanda Knox had been found guilty sent publishers into a spin. Nowadays we all want to be FIRST!!!!!, the irritating commenter who leaves their response first under a story, and first is everything, whether it's completely right or not. It was only a few minutes later, when those who had been patient enough to listen to the Italian translation of the whole verdict, realised that Knox was only guilty of libel, and not of the murder of Meredith Kercher.

It's embarrassing for the Mail Online, and others, who in their rush to publish, got it so badly wrong. It's understandable that a paper would have two versions of a story ready to go; and that legal teams and all other parties would provide quotes to the media based on both eventualities ahead of any decision. What isn't understandable is the making up of details: "She sank into her chair sobbing uncontrollably", according to the Mail, but that never happened, because she wasn't found guilty.

In the rush to be first, sometimes something - anything - will do, and quality can suffer as a result. This sort of thing has always happened in newspapers since the presses began to roll - remember the photo of a grinning Harry Truman holding up a front page saying he had been defeated in the presidential election - and many are the times when papers will have a couple of versions of a story ready to go when they know what the outcome is.

Sometimes, mistakes are made, and that's the product of simple errors and incompetence rather than malice. All that said, the guessing of details about what might have happened really isn't good enough. If you don't know, don't say anything; don't guess at what might have happened and then get it tidied up once you've had half a million unique users piling in to the story. That sort of thing isn't going to restore trust in journalism after the recent scandals, regardless of whether it's an honest mistake rather than a malicious one. The overly rapid handling of the Knox case is another dent in the credibility of our press and their ability to be trusted.

I mention Knox rather than Raffaele Sollecito because the popular narrative with this story has never been about him. This has been, for better or worse, the tale of a not unattractive white American woman embroiled in a murder which may have had sexual elements to it; who even remembers what Sollecito looks like? Or that Rudy Guede is in prison, serving time for the crime? It has always been the story of Knox, or 'Foxy Knoxy' as the tabloids have lasciviously called her, based on a moniker she once gave herself online.

No wonder Kercher's family feel she has been forgotten in all the attention directed at Knox, and to a much lesser extent, Sollecito and Guede. Knox's face stares out from all the newspapers, on one occasion photographed so that her face was framed with a light above it as a halo, while the victim fades away into the background.

Who remembers Kercher's agony and her family's pain of loss? But that is the way of these things. The very least the tabloids so joyously feasting on the gory details could do would be to be as accurate as possible, if they aren't going to be respectful. But they can't even do that.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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