Stephanie Mencimer on “Hot Coffee” and the Jamie Leigh Jones case

by Walter Olson on October 22, 2013

Having been at times lacking in enthusiasm for the work of journalist Stephanie Mencimer, it’s only fair we credit her again with considerable courage for returning to the failed Jamie Leigh Jones case in a new article in Washington Monthly. (Jones alleged a brutal rape in Iraq for which her lawyers said employer Halliburton/Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) should have been held responsible; the case served as a springboard for numerous misleading attacks on pre-dispute arbitration). Following the evidence wherever it leads against the likely inclinations of many Washington Monthly readers, Mencimer leaves Jones’ credibility in tatters and the various liberal and trial-lawyer sources that ballyhooed her case — including Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and TV talker Rachel Maddow — looking highly gullible, to go with the kindest interpretation.

Most damning of all, as readers of posts in this space (especially those by Ted Frank) will recall, Jones was given center stage in Susan Saladoff’s film “Hot Coffee,” which periodically airs on HBO and on college campuses and has established itself as one of the litigation industry’s most durable and successful propaganda vehicles. All future discussion of “Hot Coffee” — and certainly any cable/broadcast airings or public screenings whose sponsors care about accuracy and fairness — will need to warn audiences that the Jones case can now be seen in retrospect as almost unrecognizably different from the picture of it presented in that trial-lawyer-produced “documentary.” If this is what becomes of one of Saladoff’s central cases, how reliable ought we to consider the rest of her film?

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1 Officer Serpico 10.22.13 at 3:36 pm

Don’t be too eager to dismiss the rest of Hot Coffee. That’s going too far and is very telling of your motivations in promoting that article, imo.

As someone moved by Jones’ story as related in Hot Coffee, Mencimer’s piece has put me on the fence, but only concerning Jones and her credibility; NOT on the issue of mandatory binding arbitration, and not on “tort reform” or the stacking of the courts with judges predisposed to rule in favor of industry.

It should be noted that Saladoff cut a shorter version of the film for colleges and school audiences that removes Jones’ case study.

2 wfjag 10.22.13 at 4:00 pm

“All future discussion of ‘Hot Coffee’ — and certainly any cable/broadcast airings or public screenings whose sponsors care about accuracy and fairness — will need to warn audiences that the Jones case can now be seen in retrospect as almost unrecognizably different from the picture of it presented in that trial-lawyer-produced ‘documentary.’”

And how is “Hot Coffee” materially different from the Academy Award nominated “documentary” film “The Invisible War”?

3 En Passant 10.23.13 at 11:08 pm

tl;dr Mencimer: Media meets Münchausen, misses much manipulation, manufactures massive misinformation, misleads many. Mercifully, merely modest mandates materialize. Mysteriously mistaken memories might mean money milking motives. Movie midsection massacred. Maligned mom matriculates, makes MBA.

4 KHorn 10.25.13 at 11:27 am

Officer Serpico,
If the Washington Monthly piece only put you on the fence it is very telling on your motivations. Jones claims her vagina and anus were torn and bleeding, she had ruptured breast implants and a torn pectoral muscle. The Army doctor who did her rape kit found minor bruising, vaginal redness, no evidence of anal penetration at all and heard no complaints about chest pain. Several fellow employees stated that the day after her supposed brutal rape she was upbeat, happy and showed no signs of pain. What is to be on the fence about her case? The doctor’s report alone should have kept her out of the courthouse. The only question I have about her is, why the hell is she not in jail for lying to Congress and perjury.

5 SOBL1 10.26.13 at 12:04 pm

Mencimer’s article is god but still ends with ‘the ends justify the means’, which is progressive currency. “Hot Coffee” is educational in how things happen in the American political system. Interests use a person or event to get media awareness out there, which then turns into an issue for voters to coalesce around and support a politician to get into office and enact legislation. The entire documentary was made because it spotlighted the “evil pro-business” tort reform moves by businesses to protect themselves and surprise surprise hurt lawyers who donate 75% of all their political money to the left who are aligned with the media.

This applies to social issues as well. Academics and the media create or spotlight the issue and it eventually molds public opinion to enact legal change. You think the nation went from 17% of Americans supporting gay marriage roughly 20 years ago to 50+/-% now by themselves? Propaganda molds just enough voters to make it all happen.

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