The “Halliburton rape” case: setting the record straight

by Walter Olson on October 6, 2011

Remember the “Halliburton rape” case, where the national media uncritically passed along claims that a young woman had been viciously assaulted by co-workers while stationed in the Middle East, then confined to a container by beastly managers when she tried to complain, and finally suffered the ultimate indignity when her employment contract required her to submit the claims to arbitration? It’s a tale that was advanced by politicians like Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), by some of the usual suspects in opinion journalism, and especially by the litigation lobby as part of its campaign against contractually provided-for arbitration (as with the much-reviewed, HBO-aired “Hot Coffee“). Not a few of these advocates — like the left-leaning ThinkProgress — threw “allegedly” to the winds and flatly accused the co-workers of rape.

Unless you’d read one of the very few skeptical evaluations of the case — many of them written by Ted Frank — you may have been shocked this July when a Houston jury summarily rejected Jamie Leigh Jones’s lawsuit. Now — better late than never — the Houston Chronicle shreds the popular narrative of the affair and its media coverage in particular (ABC News: a tale of “sexual brutality, corporate indifference and government inaction.”) Is it too much to hope that anyone will be embarrassed enough to apologize?

More: As commenter E-Bell notes, journalist Stephanie Mencimer, with whom we’ve had our differences in the past, deserves due credit for this July coverage in the unlikely venue of Mother Jones. And quoth @Popehat: “‘Putting the victim on trial’ is code for ‘defending yourself and testing the evidence.'”

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1 E-Bell 10.06.11 at 9:46 am

This post is incomplete without mentioning Stephanie Mencimer’s review of the evidence (post-trial) in Mother Jones:

http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/07/kbr-could-win-jamie-leigh-jones-rape-trial

2 Jim Collins 10.06.11 at 11:12 am

If I were still single, women like that, would have me seriously considering putting a security camera in my bedroom.

3 Thufir_Hawat 10.07.11 at 10:11 am

Is it too much to ask? Kind of. See, for example, Jezebel, whose commenters recently went into an immediate half-truth inspired frenzy, and were talking about (but not necessarily creating) a funds for Ms. Jones’s legal fees.

What legal fees you say? Wasn’t her lawyer on contingency? That would be the $145K in expenses that KBR incurred in the litigation and which the Court awarded to KBR. It does not include, by the way, the $2 million in fees incurred. My recollection is that the Court more or less stated it did not want to award the $145K, but had to under the TRCP and CPRC.

4 Ron Miller 10.07.11 at 1:28 pm

I can see where the accused would feel vindication. But why does the blogosphere feel so vindicated by all of this? What exactly is the take home message here? Some women lie about being raped? Of course they do. But, really, the bigger problem in we have is women getting raped who don’t bring or can’t prove charges because putting the evidence together is often so difficult.

I’m also a skeptic. The narrative from the Stella Liebeck movie was so one sided and blind to the real story. Could this new narrative be equally distorting?

I’m not including Overlawyered’s post in this question. But is it just me or is the unfettered joy over this a little creepy?

5 Former Camp Hope 10.07.11 at 1:48 pm

Is it too much to hope for an apology? I guess so. Even Congressman Ted Poe wont apologize for lying to 20/20, media, Congress…you name it, he lied.

6 gitarcarver 10.07.11 at 8:51 pm

But why does the blogosphere feel so vindicated by all of this?

Because the “blogosphere,” or at least part of it, refused to fall into the narrative of “Jones must be telling the truth because those she accused work for devil spawned company, Haliburton.”

People supported Jones simply because they wanted to hurt Haliburton, or because they believed Haliburton was even more evil than they imagined. Part of the blogosphere said “let’s wait for the facts,” but others tried, convicted and sentenced the company, and by extension the man in the case of a heinous crime.

(And yes, there is vindication for the man accused in this crime, as well as all of the people associated with it that did their jobs honestly, truthfully and professionally.)

We saw the same thing in the Brawley case and the Duke lacrosse case. Instead of going with the narrative supplied by much of the media, the blogosphere that has been “vindicated” is the part that said “wait for the facts.”

The “message” is that people are not guilty by association or because of their employer. The “message” is that truth matters.

To some, that message won’t be seen or heard. They will be as deaf as a sign post and when similar circumstances arise again, they will launch into another attack without the facts.

Those are the people you should be concerned with, Ron. Those are the people that need the message.

7 Ron Miller 10.10.11 at 5:07 am

That does not explain the vindication in spite of the lack of association. I don’t think this hinges on two kinds of people : those that wait for the facts and those that rush to judgment. The same people who say “wait for the facts” in one type of case are the same ones drawing meaningful conclusions from mere droppings of evidence.

8 gitarcarver 10.10.11 at 9:43 am

That does not explain the vindication in spite of the lack of association.

Sorry Ron, I think that you are vastly underestimating the reason why the blogosphere was interested in this story. While the woman’s tale was part of this, many people used this (and still are using it) to attack Haliburton and large companies as being evil. They use the woman’s story to back up that assertion.

There are some of us that are glad 1) the woman was not raped and 2) the corporate hatred strengthened by this incident is wrong.

Then you have the evil corporations wanting to arbitrate rather than getting a “day in court.”

Well, all that happened and the narrative fell apart. The Woman lied and tried to play on the sympathy of a jury.

It didn’t work and the side of the blogosphere that waited is vindicated.

9 William Nuesslein 10.11.11 at 4:56 am

I like Senator Franken a whole lot. I remember him saying that he believed the Feb 2003 presentation by Secretary of State Powell to the United Nations. I followed the WMD debate and found at the time Powell’s speech to be condensed horse manure. Mr. Franken is very intelligent in the SAT sense and follows closely follows politics. Somebody numbered the various assertions in Secretary Powell’s speech, between two and three dozen, and found every one of them to be wrong. I wondered why Mr. Franken was so gullible. The charges by Ms. Jones were doubtful just by their statement, like Tawana Bawley’s. Why would a smart good man believe such claims without supporting evidence?

Senator Franken makes the common obnoxious mistake of seeing government as the protector of the little guy against avaricious corporate interest. Government provides an environment where automobiles, airplanes, drugs and other complicated goods and services can be delivered at affordable prices. And then Senator Franken actually fights for truly avaricious lawyers; shame on him!

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