Nina Burleigh on Amanda Knox "Amanda Knox is nothing if not a good story," writes Nina Burleigh, who wrote a book on the Knox case, in the Los Angeles Times. Burleigh went to Italy unsure whether Knox had really murdered her roommate, but aware that the case revealed a cultural obsession with the "femme fatale." But after several weeks observing the case, Burleigh decided there was almost nothing linking Knox to the murder, while most evidence actually pointed to another man. "It became clear that it wasn't facts but Knox -- her femaleness, her Americaness, her beauty -- that was driving the case." There was much misogyny surrounding it. A prison doctor told her she had HIV, prompting her to list every man she'd ever had sex with. After authorities gave the list to tabloids, the prison said it was mistaken and she was HIV-negative. The prosecution called her a "she-devil." In fact, Knox had only grown into her beauty in college. She remained conflict-averse and unsure of her effect on men. She was an avid diarist. Police used the upbeat tone she took in her "prison diary" to argue that she was psychopathic. Reporters focused on the few instances she talked about sex, and ignored the times she mentioned her jailer sexually harassing her. "The focus on her sexuality suggests that civilization can easily tip backward to the primeval era when the feminine was classified, worshiped and feared in the form of powerful archetypes: Madonnas and Dianas, virgins and whores." People assigned her a personality of self-possession that in the end she did not have and would have helped her defend herself. "The gaunt, tense woman defending herself on appeal bore barely any resemblance to the fresh, pretty girl photographed kissing her boyfriend outside the murder scene. Only now, having lost the power to bewitch and beguile, has she been revealed as human."

Michael Gerson on Romney's Mormonism Mitt Romney's Mormonism continues to be a challenge to his primary odds, writes Michael Gerson. "About 20 percent of Republicans and 23 percent of Protestants tell Gallup they would not support a Mormon for president," he says in The Washington Post. Gerson says the right's opposition to him based on his religion is likely to fade. The Mormon church is "America's fourth-largest denomination; Mormons are one of the nation's strongest conservative voting blocks. A serious Republican candidate simply can't run an anti-Mormon campaign." Furthermore, as choices between candidates become specific, voters may change their minds. Conservative evangelicals have never been a majority and so they have always reached out politically to other groups from Catholics to Jews. On the other hand, "criticism by secular liberals is likely to blossom," Gerson argues. The Mormon Church became a main supporter of California's Proposition 8, and liberals will couple this with the church's traditional "offenses against women and minorities" and will even raise "the specter of theocracy." "Damon Linker has warned that Mormon leaders, claiming prophetic authority, might dictate to an American president. Jacob Weisberg has insisted, 'I wouldn't vote for someone who truly believed in the founding whoppers of Mormonism." "On much of the right, politics will eventually trump theology. On at least some of the left, secularism will trump tolerance," Gerson says.

Bill McKibben on Obama's cronyism Last month, Obama's administration debuted a system where any petition with 5,000 signatures would get some sort of response from the White House. The move probably will not "stop people from trying to occupy Wall Street," though, because in other ways, the administration has shown itself to be less than transparent, writes author and environmental activist Bill McKibben in The New York Times. E-mails released through the Freedom of Information Act show cronyism like that of the Bush administration remains alive. The e-mails reveal the State Department worked with lobbyists to advance the interests of TransCanada, "the company trying to build the Keystone XL pipeline from the tar sands of Canada across the center of the continent. Even as the State Department was supposedly carrying out a neutral evaluation of the pipeline's environmental impact, key players were undermining the process." Paul Elliott, TransCanada's chief Washington lobbyist, worked for Hillary Clinton's campaign. A member of the U.S. embassy in Canada, the e-mails show, reassured Elliott that "it's precisely because you have connections that you're sought after and hired." A WikiLeaks cable revealed a State Department official coaching Canadian diplomats on how best to spin their cause in the media. The State Department hired the same consulting firm that works for TransCanada to evaluate the environmental impact of the pipeline. The firm concluded the pipeline will have no real impact, which contradicts the advice of twenty of the country's top scientists, McKibben says. If this is happening in State, it could be happening elsewhere in government, too. Obama promised to "end the tyranny of oil" as well as cronyism, McKibben says, and with his upcoming decision on the pipeline, he has a final chance to reverse course and keep his promises.

Frank Bruni on the road to Romney Frank Bruni opens his column with a series of exaggerations. "The Iowa caucuses have been moved up significantly... They will be held on Wednesday." Florida moved their primary to October 31st, and South Carolina moved theirs to October 17th, he jokes. "Far-fetched? Only a little," Bruni writes in The New York Times. The states are "playing leap frog" with primary dates. The media continues to obsess over, then reject, the candidate of the moment, showing that "an epically silly primary contest" has "only just begun." And yet, after all this, Bruni says, the victor will almost certainly be Mitt Romney, the man nearly everyone predicted would win from the outset. "The arc of Republican history bends toward the foregone conclusion. But while it's bending, what fun we have!" The news media needs to fill time focusing on different candidates and different straw poll results. "Down the line [Michele Bachmann] and Cain and Rick Santorum will be in competition for the kinds of speaking gigs and television slots enjoyed by Sarah Palin," Bruni says. "All four now enjoy a currency well beyond their actual political offices or professional accomplishments," proving that just running for president can be a profitable endeavor. Bruni has long been frustrated with the "outsize" influence given primary voters in socially conservative Iowa and South Carolina. He wonders, if Chris Christie supported either abortion rights or same-sex marriage, would Republicans be courting him as they are now? Meanwhile, the states continue to wrangle over primary dates, and even Florida, a state that captures the attention of presidential news media, is complaining that it doesn't get enough say. 

Richard Cohen on Christie's temper The media spent last week examining Chris Christie. "He was found to be too fat, too aggressive, too undisciplined, too angry and -- not insignificantly -- too late into the race," writes Richard Cohen in The Washington Post. Columnists and talk show hosts decided that his weight was disqualifying. "They raised health issues. They raised willpower issues. They raised self-discipline issues -- all of which are real, because, among other things, in a presidential campaign anything is an issue." (Cohen cites the birther debate.) And yet while the weight debate raged, campaigns were likely preparing manuals on how to defeat Christie in a debate. "The purpose is to have him lose his temper... He operates a lot on instinct, but that instinct can come off as bullying. So in New Jersey debates, he has dialed back his personality and comes off as flat." Christie is backed by many businessmen, who see in him values they hold, namely the ability to speak tough truths. But these backers might not have the keenest political senses when they support someone like them. "Chris Christie is a keenly intelligent man who has the smarts and confidence to attract really good people as aides. But he's been governor for less than two years -- one inexperienced politician per decade in the White House is enough." Washington is already too full of politicians who think they know what's right, and this is one of Christie's main qualities. "American politics now is a china shop. The last thing it needs is a bull like Christie."