Every story needs a villain, and Netflix's new documentary Amanda Knox is no different. That said, watching the 90-minute film, which dropped on Friday, you may be surprised at just how loathesome Nick Pisa is - he's already being compared to the array of sleazy lawyers and bumbling cops Making A Murderer exposed over the Winter.
Pisa is a tabloid journalist - not a profession known for its integrity - and in 2007, he was sent to Italy to cover Amanda Knox's trial for the murder of British student Meredith Kercher. His reporting was sensational to say the least (we'll hear more about that later), subjecting Knox to the kind of character assassination war criminals don't usually merit, and in the film he appears to not show a shred of remorse, leading him to have a rough weekend on Twitter:
So what's prompted all this ire? Let us break it down for you.
"It's like having sex"
Pisa's enthusiasm for his work is a little... off for a situation at whose centre lay a murdered girl.
"A murder always gets people going," he says in the film. "Bit of intrigue, big of mystery, a whodunit…What more do you want in a story?"
Now, we at ShortList are journalists too - we understand that those in the trade can become a little inured to the horrors they can sometimes cover, in the same way doctors and police officers aren't exactly known for their sunny senses of humour. But nine years on, in the cold light of day, in front of cameras where you know your every word will be pored over, what kind of person says, ""To see your name on the front page with a great story that everyone's talking about… it's just like this fantastic buzz. It's like having sex or something."
Hearsay, distortions, and orgies
What was Pisa sending back to London from Perugia? Here's a quick taste:
Pretty lurid stuff. It gets worse - Pisa was the first journalist to receive Kercher's autopsy report, and reports of small knicks and cuts were spun into a "sex game gone wrong." It wasn't long before that was spun into the headline 'KILLER ORGY' in London, and the media and Italian authorities were off to the races in presenting Knox as a drug-crazed sex killer who had killed Kercher in some orgiastic frenzy.
Were these stories accurate? Pisa wasn't fussed. "We are journalists reporting what we have been told," he says in the film. "It's not as if I can say, 'right, hold on a minute. I just want to double check that myself in some other way.'"
Um, Nick mate, that's exactly what journalists are supposed to do...
Her most personal history became fodder for ever more ludicrously distorted stories, from photos being presented out of context to far more personal invasions of privacy - ones that ask serious questions about how Pisa was coming by his information. Knox kept a diary while she was in prison; Pisa somehow gained access to this, and used it to suggest she had HIV, and to publish a list of all the men she had ever slept with. Pressed by the documentary's makers, he refuses to reveal how he came by the diary - with a shit-eating grin on his face.
Indeed, Pisa doesn't exactly lean out of the suggestion that the coverage of Knox was shaped by her being a not-exactly unappealing twenty-something woman. “We’d already had good pictures of Meredith, she was a terribly attractive woman," he says, "and now we’ve got Amanda Knox as well, pretty blonde girl, 20-something, it had that sexual intrigue, girl-on-girl crime if you like.” This sounds bad enough written down, but hearing him say it, you may feel a little sick.
Although plenty of armchair detectives question the verdicts, Knox was in the end exonerated - twice. While she was being subjected to one of the most brutal trials by media in history, another man - Rudy Guede - was later found to have been in Kercher's room, and convicted of murder and sexual assault and sentenced to 30 years in prison, although that was later reduced to 16 years on appeal. In the film, Pisa admits to covering Knox's case far more than Guede's as he thought "there was no interest in him."
You know, the guy found by a court to have been responsible for the actual crime.
Now, years afterward, Pisa is happy to recount to the makers of Amanda Knox the variety of shady practices and straight up nastiness he got up to while covering the Knox case. Just today, he's written in The Sun on how he now doesn't think Knox did the crime, but how he thinks there are still "nagging questions" around the case.
And if you haven't made up your own mind, check out Amanda Knox on Netflix now.