W. Joseph Campbell

Turning a spotlight again on Jessica Lynch

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on May 6, 2010 at 3:54 pm

It’s striking how a measure of fame still attaches to Jessica Lynch, the Army private thrust into the international spotlight seven years ago by an erroneous report in the Washington Post about her heroism in Iraq.

The Post's erroneous story

As I write in Getting It Wrong, my forthcoming book about media-driven myths, the “international spotlight … has never fully receded” from Lynch, a waif-like 19-year-old whom the Post misidentified as having fought fiercely after supposedly being shot and stabbed.

As it turned out, Lynch never fired a shot in anger in Iraq. She suffered neither gunshot nor stab wounds. She was severely injured, in the crash of a fleeing Humvee.

Lynch was taken captive by Iraqis and placed in a hospital, from where she was rescued by a U.S. special operation team.

The Post‘s botched report about her derring-do on the battlefield appears to have been a case of mistaken identity: It wasn’t Lynch who had fought heroically; it was most likely Sergeant Donald Walters, who was in Lynch’s unit and who was captured by Iraqi irregulars, and executed.

Walters never received anything near to the attention that was bestowed upon Lynch.

Further evidence of that came yesterday, with reports of a new show on cable’s Bio Channel that will feature William Shatner of Star Trek fame catching up with people who had won sudden fame and attention. (Bio formerly was the Biography Channel.)

Lynch was mentioned by name in writeups about the program, to be called Shatner’s Aftermath and to premiere in the fall. TV Guide said today that six episodes of Shatner’s Aftermath have been ordered.

The Post’s erroneous article about Lynch was published in early April 2003—and was picked up by news organizations around the world.

Lynch’s photograph appeared on the cover of Time and Newsweek magazines.

She insisted she was no hero. But no matter.

She accepted a book deal estimated at $1 million, half of which reportedly went to her biographer, Rick Bragg, a former New York Times correspondent. She went on morning and evening  television shows to promote the book, I Am a Soldier, Too, which Bragg completed in time for publication on November 11, 2003—Veterans Day.

Lynch inspired a television movie, Saving Jessica Lynch. She was offered tuition-free education at West Virginia University. And she was named “West Virginian of the year” in 2003.

Although the frenzy long ago subsided, Lynch still pops up in the news from time to time. She still attracts a spotlight.

For example, NBC’s Today show in December 2009 featured the Lynch as one of the “buzziest” people in the news during the first decade of the 21st century.

In 2007, Lynch testified at a much-publicized hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. And she later wrote a first-person article for Glamour magazine.

She said in the Glamour article: “I don’t know why the military and the media tried to make me a legend.”

As I point out in Getting It Wrong, the story of Lynch’s heroics was a media-driven myth. The U.S. military was loath to promote the case. In fact, one of the Post reporters who worked on the erroneous article told NPR’s Fresh Air program in late 2003:

“I could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about those reports [of Lynch's supposed heroism] at all. I got indications that they had, in fact, received those intelligence reports, but the Pentagon was completely unwilling to comment on those reports at all. They wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch.”

WJC

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  1. [...] 2010 at 2:01 pm I blogged last week about how the international spotlight periodically lands on Jessica Lynch, even though seven years have passed since a sensational but erroneous report in the Washington [...]

  2. [...] in the inspector general’s inquiry, including members of the Special Operations team that rescued Lynch, Gimble said in his written [...]

  3. [...] Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on August 24, 2010 at 12:41 am Jessica Lynch returned to the national spotlight last night in a tedious and unedifying television interview that not once mentioned the Washington [...]

  4. [...] call out the newspaper for its singular role in publicizing the erroneous hero-warrior tale about Jessica Lynch who, because of botched reporting by the Post, unwittingly became the best-known Army private of [...]

  5. [...] The hero-warrior tale offered by the Post–which said Lynch had fought fiercely in an ambush in southern Iraq before being shot, stabbed, and taken prisoner–was picked up by news organizations around the world and turned Lynch into the best-known Army private of the war. [...]

  6. [...] Lynch was back on the air the other day, doing a television interview that brought more muddle than clarity to the erroneous [...]

  7. [...] claim is an element of the multidimensional media myth that has come to define the Lynch case, which I examine in my mythbusting book, Getting It [...]

  8. [...] less than two days later, the Lynch case became swept up in myth and error that persist eight years [...]

  9. [...] Pentagon concocted a tale about the battlefield heroics of Jessica Lynch, a waiflike Army private then 19-years-old, and fed it to the news media in order to boost popular [...]

  10. [...] find their way into articles, columns, blog posts, and other media discussions about the Lynch case. It’s far easier — and makes for a far better story — simply to embrace the false [...]

  11. [...] Post claimed that Lynch, a waif-like supply clerk who never expected to see combat, had fought fiercely in the ambush at [...]

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