'Friends of Sinclair' website was front and center in MWW's defense of general

MWW's strategy for helping to defend US Army Brig. Gen Jeffrey Sinclair included creating a website and pushing back against "toxic" media coverage of his sexual misconduct court martial.

WASHINGTON: MWW’s strategy for helping to defend US Army Brig. Gen Jeffrey Sinclair included creating a website and pushing back against "toxic" media coverage of his sexual misconduct court martial.

The agency started working on behalf of Sinclair in 2012; later, he hired the law firm Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads. The general entered a plea deal on March 20 and was reprimanded and fined $20,000 by a military judge. He will serve no jail time.

Sinclair admitted a three-year extramarital affair with a female Army captain under his command. He could have faced life behind bars had he been convicted of the original sexual assault charges.

MWW’s immediate concern was press coverage, which agency SVP Josh Zeitz called "just toxic" because the media painted Sinclair as the "poster boy for sexual assault in the military."

The firm’s team wanted the decorated general to have a fair trial, so it educated reporters "about the facts" of the case, Zeitz said, adding there were hundreds of pages of documentation about evidence.

A website was set up to encourage people to form their own opinion on the charges against Sinclair. Zeitz added that MWW was careful to maintain the anonymity of the woman who accused the general of sexual assault, so her name was redacted from all materials posted to the portal. He said MWW was "dead set against" making it a campaign against Sinclair’s accuser. The Friends of Sinclair Twitter account also debuted in January.

The site received 47,000 page views in its first week, Zeitz recalled. One of the firm’s first strategies was showing the public that this was "an affair gone bad." Articles in The New York Times "blew open" many people’s doubts about the accuser’s claims, Zeitz said, adding that the chief prosecutor had stepped down by the time the trial started.

"As we began to share more information, the stories began to turn," he explained. "We developed a relationship of trust with [the reporters] even if we weren’t happy with their reporting."

Three days before Sinclair’s sentencing, Jamie Barnett, an attorney for the accuser and a retired Navy rear admiral, said his client stood by her testimony. He told The Washington Post in a phone interview that "she is in no way stepping away from the truth of it."

However, advocates for reforming how the military handles sexual misconduct cases said the sentencing proves more work has to be done on the subject.

Eugene Fidell, a professor of military justice at Yale Law School, told Reuters that Sinclair "made out like a bandit" and called the sentencing "a baffling denouement to a disturbing case." Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), an advocate for reforming military justice on this topic, said in a statement that "this case has illustrated a military justice system in dire need of independence from the chain of command."

Organizations in favor of reform, such as the Service Women’s Action Network, also said that the ruling is another reason for legislation to address military sexual assaults.

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