W. Joseph Campbell

Ignoring the astonishing reporting lapses in Lynch case

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths on August 15, 2010 at 9:09 am

It’s astonishing, and a bit dismaying, how readily the Jessica Lynch case is cited as an example as a hoax perpetuated by the Pentagon. And how readily the Washington Post‘s central role in promoting the case is overlooked and ignored.

Lynch was the waiflike, 19-year-old Army private whom the Washington Post, in its erroneous reporting, catapulted into sudden and undeserved international fame in April 2003, during the first days of the Gulf War.

As I discuss in Getting It Wrong, my new book debunking prominent media-driven myths, the Post published a sensational, front-page report on April 3, 2003, that  said Lynch had fought with Rambo-like ferocity in an ambush at Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.

Washington Post, April 3, 2003

The Post said Lynch had “shot several enemy soldiers,” had herself been shot and stabbed, but had kept “firing her weapon until she ran out of ammunition.”

The article quoted a U.S. official as saying, anonymously:

“‘She was fighting to the death. She did not want to be taken alive.’”

“It was an electrifying account,” I write, one picked up by news outlets across the United States and around the world.

Only it wasn’t true.

Lynch didn’t fire a shot in the ambush.

She was badly injured not from gunshots and stabbings but from the crash of the Humvee fleeing the attack.

In the years since, the narrative of the Lynch case has shifted. The Post‘s role in injecting the story into the public domain has been largely forgotten–even though the newspaper “never fully acknowledged or explained its extraordinary error about Jessica Lynch,” as I write in Getting It Wrong.

Instead, the dominant narrative now blames the Pentagon for supposedly concocting a story about a heroic female soldier.

There’s scant evidence to support such claims, which reemerged the other day at the Huffington Post, in an interview with author Laura Browder.

The interview was to promote Browder’s book, When Janey Comes Marching Home. And in the interview, Browder declares:

“The Army’s first story about Lynch was that she tried to fight off her captors, then was taken prison[er] and needed to be rescued. Their version of events was pure fiction. And it embodied this stereotype of women in the military: the damsel in distress.”

Let’s see: The “pure fiction” part was that Lynch “tried to fight off her captors,” and that came from the Post, which cited as sources unidentified “U.S. officials.”

The Pentagon was not the source for the Post‘s erroneous account, one of the Post reporters on the story has said.

That reporter, Vernon Loeb, told the Fresh Air radio program in December 2003:

“I could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about those reports at all. I got indications that they had, in fact, received those intelligence reports [about Lynch], but the Pentagon was completely unwilling to comment on those reports at all.

“They wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch.”

Loeb added:

“I just didn’t see the Pentagon trying to create a hero where there was none. I mean …they never showed any interest in doing that, to me.”

As I note in Getting It Wrong, Loeb on another occasion was quoted by the New York Times as saying:

“Far from promoting stories about Lynch, the military didn’t like the story.”

While he did not identify the Post’s sources for its “fighting to the death” article about Lynch, Loeb characterized them as “U.S. officials” who were “really good intelligence sources” in Washington, where he was based at the time.

It is little-remembered these days, but the Post‘s stunning story about Lynch’s heroics began unraveling within hours after publication.

I note in Getting It Wrong that Lynch’s father told reporters on the day the Post‘s account appeared that doctors at the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, said Jessica Lynch had suffered neither gunshot nor knife wounds.

If the military were complicit in fabricating the Lynch hero-warrior saga, it defies logic to believe that it would permit its doctors at Landstuhl to impugn that narrative just as it had begun circulating around the world.

WJC

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