W. Joseph Campbell

A subsidiary myth: Lynch rescue ‘was played acted’

In Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on July 29, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Seven years on, suspicions endure about the rescue of Jessica Lynch, the 19-year-old Army private whom the Washington Post catapulted into unsought, and undeserved, fame and celebrity early in the Iraq War.

Lynch was severely injured an ambush in Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003, and taken prisoner. Nine days later, a U.S. Special Operations team rescued Lynch  from a hospital that also had been a command post for Iraqi irregulars.

Rescuing Jessica Lynch

The Post reported soon after the rescue that Lynch had “fought fiercely” when her unit, the Army’s 507th Maintenance Company, was ambushed, and that she had “shot several enemy soldiers” and kept “firing her weapon until she ran out of ammunition.”

But as I write in Getting It Wrong, my new book about media-driven myths,  it turned out that Lynch was no hero; she never fired a shot at Nasiriyah. Her injuries were suffered not from gunfire but in the crash of a Humvee as she and others sought to flee.

The account of her battlefield derring-do probably was a case of mistaken identity or misattribution.  It wasn’t Lynch who had fought heroically at Nasiriyah, it most likely was Donald Walters, a cook-sergeant in Lynch’s unit who, after running out of ammunition, was captured by Iraqi irregulars, and executed.

I further note in Getting It Wrong that the Post’s sensational but erroneous account about Lynch’s heroics was picked up by news organizations around the world. The tale became what I call “a foundation myth” that enabled and encouraged “the emergence of subsidiary media myths, including the notion that Lynch’s dramatic rescue … a stunt manipulated by the U.S. military to boost morale at home.”

That subsidiary or spinoff myth reemerged yesterday in a commentary in Boston Globe, which declared:

“In April 2003, the American media latched onto the story of Jessica Lynch, a 19 year-old soldier, who, it was said, had been captured and mistreated by Iraqi soldiers. Her ‘rescue’ was play acted.”

Meaning what, “play acted”? That the rescue of Lynch wasn’t authentic? That it was staged? Bogus?

Presumably so. The writer doesn’t elaborate.

The BBC was among the first to claim the rescue was a put-up job. The BBC report’s, “War Spin,” called it “one of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived.”

The Pentagon dismissed the BBC’s claims as “void of all facts and absolutely ridiculous.”

Later, at the request of three Democratic members of Congress, the Defense Department’s inspector general investigated the BBC’s allegations and found them baseless.

In testimony to Congress in April 2007, Thomas F. Gimble, then the acting inspector general, reported that no evidence had been uncovered to support the claim that Lynch’s rescue “was a staged media event.”

Instead, Gimble said, the rescue operation was found to have been “a valid mission” to recover a prisoner of war “under combat conditions.”

More than thirty witnesses were interviewed in the inspector general’s inquiry, including members of the Special Operations team that rescued Lynch, Gimble said in his written testimony.

Few if any of those witnesses had been interviewed by news organizations, he noted.

In undertaking the Lynch rescue, Gimble said, the extrication team “fully expected to meet stiff resistance” and had come under enemy fire from the hospital building and areas nearby.

As I note in Getting It Wrong, Gimble’s report came four years after the BBC’s account. By then, the view that the rescue was a stunt had become solidified, a widely accepted element of the Lynch saga.

Gimble’s report in 2007 did not fit what had become the dominant narrative about the rescue.

It made little news.

That’s not so surprising.  After all, the notion of a counterfeit rescue operation fit well with the curdled popular view about the war in Iraq, I note in Getting It Wrong.

WJC

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