The debate that never was

On this past Sunday, blogger Lisa Marie Basile was intending to debate criminal profiler Chelsea Hoffman on the case against Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito . Both are feminists who have published articles on the case against Knox. Basile published two articles on international news site The Huffington Post arguing for Knox’s innocence. Hoffman has published articles supporting the case against Knox on All Voices and on her own site. The debate started being advertised about a week prior. About twenty minutes before the scheduled debate, Basile cancelled the debate, but still appeared with Hoffman to have a discussion.

I was not surprised by Basile’s withdrawal; in fact I was quite surprised she did it so late. I was pretty certain she would withdrawal earlier in the day when I saw a tweet from Basile to Hoffman mentioning second thoughts. Why, then, did the final decision only occur twenty minutes prior? The reason given for Basile’s withdrawal was the public response to her articles. She said she received “nonstop threats and harassment”.  She also detailed some of the other harassment she received, but she did not call out any specific instance; she was reacting to the overall reaction and her desire to not want to deal with the public response to her articles. I’m not aware of the personal exchanges between Hoffman and Basile prior to the show, but somehow Hoffman still convinced Basile to appear, albeit without the debate format. Basile’s reasons for withdrawing from the debate the tone and primary topic for the discussion that followed.

They started out in supposedly “safe” territory by discussing the reasons Basile withdrew from the debate. The pair discussed responses to their public writings. Basile stated it was her first time writing about crime, and asked Hoffman about how people respond to crime cases in general, and if the response in the Knox case is typical. While they did specifically address responses from people who have long followed the case, they generally criticized and condemned the responses they received.

Many have criticized Basile and Hoffman’s sweeping indictment of twitter and other responses. Almost everyone who responded to the two of them prior to the show were apparently thrown into the same basket. Basile showed little willingness to separate out claimed threats or the documented sexist harassment she experienced from other criticisms of her views.

Eventually, Hoffman drew Basile into a conversation about the Knox case. I commend Hoffman for her ability to create a space that fed in to Basile’s need for a “safe” space. I need to ask, why was it necessary to create such a “safe” space to begin with? Because of the public response, or because of Basile’s unwillingness to deal with the public response to her articles?

Basile acknowledges that when she published her first article, she knew she was stepping into a highly charged, polarized debate:

When I wrote the May 2014 piece “Where Are All The Feminists? Why Amanda Knox’s Story Is About More Than Murder,” I was well aware of how deeply polarizing this case has been over the past several years.

Her false claims in her published articles were publicly criticized (rightly so).  Shortly after her first article was published Basile demonstrated an unwillingness to engage in public conversation about the Knox case with her readers by requesting that people contact her privately to discuss the case. Despite Basile’s apparent reservations about the response to her article, she proceeded to publish a second article internationally, with an even more authoritative headline: “Almost Everything You’ve Read about Amanda Knox is Wrong.” When Basile published her second article, she tried to direct twitter comments to the Huffington Post article (the comments I added never seemed to appear).

Getting back to the non-debate, we should remember the two participants were feminist women. Part of the feminist perspective is that meaning is established by collaboration between individuals.  Viewed through this perspective, Basile and Hoffman had a nice little session of collaborative meaning-making. However, the outcome did not construct a shared meaning of Knox’s innocence or guilt, as was expected from the announcement of the debate on the Knox case. The shared meaning they generated was more on their interpretation of the online responses to their articles.

Basile’s feminist persona generally  (aside from the two articles she wrote) is that she engages with people expecting to establish this kind of collaboration. With two notable exceptions, Basile denounced responses to her articles as being “disrespectful.” The only two people she cites as being respectful are, in fact, two other feminists.  It seems Basile limits her view of “respect” to be only those who engage with her to establish this collaborative meaning making.  She rejects direct critiques of her views and arguments “disrespectful” of her “opinion.”

Judging by Basile’s stamp on what she considers “respectful” dialog, one interpretation is that Basile demands that readers engage with her with a feminist, meaning-making approach. My criticism is that if Basile had an expectation that she could make everyone engage with her in the same approach, or worse, an inability to deal with anyone in any other way, then she was simply unready to be published on the international stage.  Her style of writing authoritatively on the case  is also at odds with the way she presented her views as “opinions” in the chat with Hoffman. The contrast between the article and the show is so stark, it leads me to wonder if there was a ghost co-writer on the articles.

Basile also seems to lack any self-introspection of her own actions and approach. Her online article criticizes people for providing citations to biased articles. She critizes Nelson’s article by saying “all but two of her links to ‘evidence’ direct readers to private, biased anti-Knox sites.” Then during her chat with Hoffman she admits (with a laugh) that her own citations may also be biased; and indeed they are; the links she provides for case information include the Knox advocacy site Injustice in Perugia, journalist Nina Burleigh who advocates for Knox, and she extensively quotes the error-laden advocacy piece written by Sollecito’s co-writer, Andrew Gumbel.

In an ironic moment, one of Knox’s white knights came to Basile’s rescue. Former FBI man Jim Clemente tweeted at the end of the conversation to Hoffman and another twitter user for being understanding and supporting Basile’s decision. Why did Clemente feel the need he had to thank Hoffman on behalf of Basile?  According to follow-up tweets, Clemente didn’t seem to have been previously in contact with Basile regarding the with the alleged threats . Clemente also complemented Basile on her debate (which channel was he watching?) and on her articles. Basile was honored by Clemente’s admiration despite Clemente being one of the major violators of civil debate.

Viewers who turned in for a debate on the evidence and fact would have been disappointed by the style of conversation between Hoffman and Basile. My primary criticism is their grouping together all public responses, then basing their judgement on a sweeping categorization, instead of doing the harder work to “separate out the wheat from the chaff.”

weiner advocacyAnimosity and antagonism between camps has long been part of the case, but it can surely be traced to the early attempts by Knox family and advocates to suppress details of the case from the US. Direct attacks on people who believe differently has long been part of the strategy of Knox advocates. Knox advocates early on coined the phrase “guilters” (and its alternative, “haters”) for anyone who attempted to discuss the actual evidence against Knox and Sollecito. One of Knox’s white knight FBI men has been actively involved in pushing the “guilters” phrase, and even attacks the family of Meredith Kercher.

Despite appearances of a respectful discussion, this show wasn’t a vote in favor of two sides being able to really engage in meaningful debate on the evidence between two people of different sides. The two participants have had a passing involvement in the Knox case, and yet still weren’t able to get into a deep discussion of the case.  The evidence of the case was discussed nominally, stated as general beliefs about a scattering of case details. Hoffman seemed to state that she will continue with debates, albeit on other cases. It will be interesting to see how those debates go, and if respectful dialog and a deep discussion of contested case details can mutually exist.


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11 thoughts on “The debate that never was

  1. Thank you for your efforts. That seems to be about right. I have two questions for you.
    Did you know Ms Hoffman is writing a book about Amanda Knox, for profit? Did you know she removed the announcement from her web page when asked about it?
    I lost a big amount of respect for both women, and find myself wondering why they chose this path? Chelsea Hoffman stated she did not want to attack Ms LMB, and that made me pause, because the classical debating rules that were to be employed, forbid any speak that is not respectful…it’s a mystery.
    Thanks again, as always. Tamale

    • @The Maati

      1. My book “Colpevole” is no secret, and no it was not removed when you asked about it. Spreading lies about people just because they unfriend you is in very poor taste — especially when you’re doing so in order to undermine people who are rallying for justice for Meredith Kercher. I have you blocked on Twitter, so I guess now that you’re unable to continue passively attacking me by tagging me in your tweets that are aimed at belittling me, you’re going to resort to posting on the internet things that are not true. Shame on you.

      2. Avoiding ad hominem attacks is one of the man rules of classical debate. FYI.

      3. As stated publicly, she pulled out of the debate. I don’t disrespect people that I have on my show — even if YOU don’t like them. If you want to abuse people who have differing points of view from yours, by all means please set up your own youtube channel and invite people on to be treated with little to no respect. I am sure you’ll get super far with them.

      I used to like you and have a lot of respect for you, but you have turned out to be truly no better than the people that Lisa and I mentioned on the failed debate on Sunday. Again,shame on you.

    • Yes, I was aware she was planning a book on Knox; I’m also aware of the other books she’s written on other cases, and hope to someday read the river of no return.

      I was surprised when Basile initially agreed to it, as she showed from the start an unwillingness to publicly deal with the response to her articles. I think Basile’s position was untenable, and after Basile’s rejection of court documents was made an issue on twitter, I think Basile realized her position would not stand to debate. I suspect that she may have had recommendations from pro-knox supporters to withdraw. I would have respected Basile’s position a lot more if her articles were put forth as true opinion pieces instead of authoritative statements of fact based on her claims of researching the case. I still criticize Basile for publishing false claims on international news sites, such as the claim that the prison officials deliberately lied to Knox to obtain and publish her HIV list.

      I had thought that they might focus more on the media image of Knox in their debate, as that is part of Basile’s argument, and the debate was billed as between feminists. I think Basile would have gotten way more support for her articles if she focused on the media image of knox instead of primarily trying to make a case for Knox’s innocence.

      I think Hoffman held back from really getting into the details of the case. I view that as part of her handling of her guest, not a statement on her level of knowledge on the case.

  2. I Don’t think it’s fair to criticise Hoffman for her intention to write a book about Knox, as you say “for profit” many others have done so and none more so than Knox herself, making millions from her crime. Many Pro Knox propagandists are involved for less than “pure” reasons

    I found the tweet from Clemente to Hoffman highly suspicious from the perspective of whether he was involved in pulling the plug. Remember the debate was supposed to be about the EVIDENCE & one thing you will not see the Knox propaganda machine of Clemente, Moores & Wiener do is debate the EVIDENCE except on a bias pro Knox controlled platform & as an avid follower of the arguments and exchanges on twitter I find this an obvious propaganda policy. Indeed on her most recent amateur internet Video posting Wiener recently ranted that the “guilters” were not invited to debate with Clemente because he is an expert and they were not worthy of the chance to debate with him in public. She did not however go on to explain why she thought she was in any way qualified to offer her own bias pro Knox rantings.

    In the absence of a proper public debate of the actual evidence produced & presented by both sides TO THE COURTS hosted by a neutral but capable presenter, on which the guilty verdicts were based, rather than the constant one sided pro Knox propaganda from her PR team through friendly US media & on the internet means, the arguments from the FOAK’s have no credibility. You just have to keep asking yourself ….. What are they afraid of ?

    • I agree that many have written books for various reasons, and I generally don’t criticize the publication of books when that is a part of the person’s career. Moore and Dempsey, however, are two exceptions; they have obviously written (or assisted with) pro-Knox books to assist with her defense. Moore did so after he stated he wasn’t going to be going out and writing any books. Dempsey’s book is as much creative writing as anything, primarily based on the blog posts by Sforzo.

      Clemente’s insertion of himself into the debate agreement between Hoffman and Basile is highly suspicious.

      • Clemente inserted himself with their typical pro-AK G-man assurance of ‘we’ll find out who these people are who are threatening you and have the FBI take care of them.’ Wonder if Clemente’s FBI division is aware that he and retired agent Steve Moore continue to threaten pro-justice for Meredith Kercher supporters with the full resources of the FBI?

  3. I for one am so glad you take the time to write on this subject, if you write a book about this I will be buying it.
    Acute & Articulate already looking forward to your next one.
    Again Thanks for taking the time

    • I’d buy a publication from Pat too! Been reading his comments and blog posts for several years.

      Chelsea Hoffman’s planned debate with Lisa Basile was a big snooze fest — stopped listening after only 2-3 minutes. Doubt I’ll bother tuning into another one. Have followed Chelsea’s AllVoices contributions for several years, off and on, so am aware she is familiar with Meredith’s case. Just wish she could have channeled some of Meredith’s spirit and at least gotten into Lisa’s face challenging her obvious lies with some gusto and bravery. Lisa’s weak, deceptive opinion pieces deserve no space on international news servers. Huffington Post’s credibility grows more suspect daily IMO.

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