How One Conservative Writer Mistook A Viral Photo For Rolling Stone’s ‘Jackie’

Charles C. Johnson speaks during a press conference in Washington, D.C. in July 2014.
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December 19, 2014 6:00 a.m.
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Since Rolling Stone’s disputed story on rape culture at the University of Virginia began to unravel, conservative writer Charles C. Johnson has made it his mission to doxx “Jackie,” the reported victim of a brutal gang rape at a campus fraternity house.

Last week, Johnson was widely condemned for publishing an unconfirmed photo and full name of Jackie on his website, GotNews.com. He also published a screenshot of Jackie’s purported Pintrest account, followed by a post that pulled an image from that account and identified the woman in the picture as Jackie.

The website Little Green Footballs quickly pointed out that the woman depicted in the photo, which was taken at the first annual SlutWalk DC event in 2011, was a different person than the woman Johnson had identified as Jackie. The image had been featured on SlutWalk DC’s official Facebook page, Little Green Footballs noted, and the woman pictured had commented on the post to thank the event’s organizers and participants. (The photo has since been removed or made private.)

But that wasn’t the only place the photo had appeared.

In fact, the photo has been something of a viral phenomenon among sexual assault activists. It has been widely circulated on a variety of social media platforms for more than three years, and it is easily found on numerous websites.

So how did Johnson get the story so wrong?

He’s fallen for stories with viral potential before. Johnson once reported that a New York Times correspondent covering the Benghazi attacks, David Kirkpatrick, had posed for Playgirl. That information came from a satirical article in a spoof issue of the Princeton student newspaper. A story Johnson wrote on then-Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker not actually residing in Newark was debunked, and another on Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) soliciting underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic unraveled.

This time around, the photo in question showed a woman with wavy brown hair holding a sign with the following handwritten message:

My rapist doesn’t know he’s a rapist. You taught him it wasn’t his fault. I drank too much, flirted and my shorts, too short. I was asking for it. He left me in a parking garage staircase. My (ex)boyfriend spit in my face. He called me a slut, he called me a whore. I deserved it. My friends gave me dirty looks. They called me trash, not realizing, it could have been them. This culture, your culture, my culture, told them, told me, this was my fault. And I suffered. But, my rapist doesn’t know he’s a rapist. I am not ashamed. I will take a stand.

That first phrase, “My rapist doesn’t know he’s a rapist,” fueled the spread of the image among activists. It’s hard to tell exactly how many times the SlutWalk photo was shared because over the years it’s been posted on various websites by numerous users. For example, a post that included the photo on the Being Liberal Facebook page was shared over 5,000 times and garnered nearly 18,000 likes.

A Google search for “My rapist doesn’t know he’s a rapist” also turns up pages of results containing the photo, from a post on TotalSororityMove.com to a discussion board for mothers to the Men’s Rights forum on Reddit.

Johnson declined TPM’s request to discuss in detail how he misidentified the woman in the SlutWalk photo as Jackie.

“I have written hundreds of stories and my team got a photograph wrong for less than two hours. Have some perspective,” he told TPM by email on Wednesday.

The conservative writer did add something of a correction to the post after it went live.

“I consulted with two photographic experts and I made a judgment call based on the evidence above,” he wrote. “In the rush to publish, I screwed up and ask your forgiveness. This is a start up and while I’ve broken many stories before everyone else, I’m still human and make mistakes.”

Yet the full name of the woman pictured remained in the post, while Johnson paradoxically wrote that he “honestly still [doesn’t] know if this photo is of Jackie.” TPM is not naming the woman in the photo.

News website TouchVision spoke with the woman pictured last week and reported that she was considering legal action against Johnson.

TPM reached out to the woman pictured in the photo, but she declined to comment through SlutWalk DC’s founder, Samantha Wright, citing concerns for her privacy. Wright told TPM that since Johnson published his article, the woman has changed the name on her Facebook profile and deleted her Twitter account.

“She was getting harassment from people she went to high school and college with, because now not only were they thinking that she was involved in this UVA story, but people were more aware of this story that actually did happen to her that was written on her poster,” Wright said.

Wright told TPM that the woman was “100 percent considering” taking legal action against Johnson for publishing her full name and photo. Though, contrary to other reports, Wright said the woman had not done so yet and had not yet retained a lawyer. She also said that the woman attempted to contact Johnson via email about removing her name and photo from the post, to no avail.

Johnson also said in an email to TPM that he has not been contacted by any attorney representing the woman.

“And my attorneys tell me she doesn’t have a case,” he added.

Johnson is a pretty litigious guy himself. He’s threatened a number of news outlets that have published profiles of him in recent days with libel lawsuits. It’s a threat he makes frequently but on which he apparently has yet to follow through.

Those threats also suggest Johnson holds other reporters to standards he does not hold himself to. Many social media users noted this tweet’s irony in the wake of Johnson’s efforts to doxx Jackie:

He hasn’t apologized for printing the full name of the woman pictured in the SlutWalk photo, either.

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