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Columnists

Surfers' paradise

Dixe Wills

dixe.jpg'There's many a slip twixt cup and lip,' we're told by people in the know. And they're right too. Only today I coated my four-day-old stubble (readying myself for the United Nations' officially-designated 'Year of Looking Grizzled') in globules of hot cup-a-soup by dint of a mis-timed lower lip stretch. I wouldn't have minded but it was my favourite flavour, 'Serbian neo-hedonist' (not the acquired taste you might imagine as long as you already like boiled wheat).
Swallowing an unmanly yelp and reaching for the tissues, I wiped the gobbets of glutinous gluten from my inchoate beard and resumed my crossing of the Cheddar Gorge by tightrope.

How many journalists around the world might wish that their own cyberspace-based errors were so easily wiped clean?1 A recent example of internet cup-lip slippage occurred after the appeal court hearing in Italy of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. Or rather, if only it had been after the end, the slippage might not have occurred. Instead, it was a few seconds before the end. On hearing the judge declare that Knox had been found guilty, fingers around the world hit the big red 'publish' button running their prepared 'Knox found guilty' stories. Unfortunately for them, the judge was merely declaring Knox guilty of a slander charge. As we all now know, she and Sollecito were found not guilty of Meredith Kercher's murder.

The Sun, Sky News, even the Guardian, bless 'em, announced that the pair had lost their appeal, only to have to back-pedal minutes later. The Daily Mail, however, went for something far more ambitious. Under the headline, 'Guilty: Amanda Knox looks stunned as appeal against murder conviction is rejected,' their man Nick Pisa claimed that Knox 'sank into her chair sobbing uncontrollably while her family and friends hugged each other in tears'. Meanwhile, the Kercher family 'remained expressionless, staring straight ahead, glancing over just once at the distraught Knox family'. Pisa's powers of soothsaying at their peak, he was also able to report, 'Prosecutors were delighted with the verdict and said that "justice has been done" although they said on a "human factor it was sad two young people would be spending years in jail".'

Pisa defended himself, claiming that 'two versions are written for court stories on deadline' and that one is then 'fine tuned before being sent for publication or online' (which is often true). The only problem being that the Daily Mail clearly had no intention of fine tuning the piece; and that even if Knox and Sollecito had been found guilty, the chances of everything being close enough to Pisa's prediction for the piece to be fine tuned to reflect the truth were infinitesimally small.

Moral? The future is a different country, they do things differently there. It's probably best not to claim you know otherwise.

1  114 (survey last taken in 2009).

Dixe Wills