This ought to provoke controversy. An extensive story was posted by Washington Monthly on Tuesday, probing the widely covered Jamie Leigh Jones rape case in Iraq. You remember, the one where a KBR worker was allegedly gang-raped then tossed in a shipping container by KBR. The charges drew massive media attention, from 20/20 and Maddow to the film Hot Coffee, and helped spark a very valuable law introduced by Senator Al Franken.
For most people, that’s where the story stops. Hot Coffee still shows on HBO and none of the media programs have revisited or admitted any errors. But now Stephanie Mencimer brings you up to date, and a lot of people may not like it. Read the piece yourself and then weigh in below.
Mencimer, who covered the case early and often for her main outlet, Mother Jones, admits she was among those in the media who (in her view now) got it all wrong.
In fact, she labels it “an epic media failure.” After much news research, she no longer believes most of Jones’s claims, which were also dismissed by a jury—she was even ordered to pay KBR’s legal expenses. And Mencimer hits strongly at fellow reporters and TV hosts for not doing their own mea culpas, or even discussing this with her for the story. (Jones herself does talk to her at length and provide her side of the story again.) The man at the center of Jones’s accusations did go on to face charges… for assaulting another woman.
Here’s one excerpt, but you really need to read the whole thing and make up your own mind.
In June 2012, I attended the Washington, D.C., premier of Hot Coffee, along with Al Franken. During the event, producer Susan Saladoff informed the audience that the Jones trial was under way. Since I was unable to cover the trial in person, the dates had slipped my mind. But as I walked out of the theater and listened to people fuming about the injustice heaped on Jones and ticking off the damning evidence—the shipping container, the lost rape kit, etc.—I decided to look at the trial records to see what sort of smoking guns Jones’s lawyers had come up with.
As it turned out, I found smoking guns, but not of the sort I was expecting. The next morning, I started looking through the filings posted online on PACER, the federal judiciary’s Web site. There I found expert witness reports filed by KBR, psychological evaluations of Jones conducted by workers’ comp companies, medical records, and much of what later came out at trial about her many previous rape claims and complicated mental health history. The trial record was so at odds with Jones’s public story that I was simply dumbfounded.
At the same time, she certainly wouldn’t have been the first deeply flawed individual to change the law for the better.
Jessica Valenti discusses the rhetoric and language around rape.