W. Joseph Campbell

Lynch heroics ‘ginned up by Bush-era Pentagon’?

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on August 17, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Private Lynch

The Huffington Post today reviews the new movie about Pat Tillman, the pro football player turned Army Ranger who was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. The review also takes a swipe at the Pentagon for supposedly concocting a hero-warrior story around 19-year-old Army private Jessica Lynch in the early days of the Iraq War.

The review says that Lynch’s “combat actions, as ginned up by the Bush-era Pentagon, did not square with reality.”

Well, frankly, that observation doesn’t quite “square with reality.”

I discuss the myths that have been spun off from the Lynch case in my new book Getting It Wrong, noting that the Pentagon wasn’t the source for the erroneous account of Lynch’s battlefield heroics.

The Washington Post thrust that account into the public domain in a sensational, front-page report on April 3, 2003.

The Post‘s story described how Lynch, despite being shot and stabbed, fiercely fought Iraqi attackers in an ambush at Nasiriyah. The electrifying report appeared beneath the headline:

“‘She was fighting to the death.’”

And the story was picked up around the world. But it was wrong, badly wrong.

Lynch never fired a shot in the fighting at Nasiriyah. She suffered neither gunshot nor stab wounds; her injuries were severe, and came in the crash of a Humvee fleeing the ambush.

The Post‘s article was based on sources identified only as “U.S. officials.” The article said that “Pentagon officials … had heard ‘rumors’ of Lynch’s heroics but had no confirmation” to offer.

As I note in Getting It Wrong, one of the Post reporters on the story said on at least two occasions that the Pentagon was not the source for the Lynch story.

The reporter, Vernon Loeb, who has since moved on to the Philadelphia Inquirer, told the NPR Fresh Air program in December 2003 that he “could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about those reports [of Lynch's supposed heroics] at all.”

He added that the Pentagon “was completely unwilling to comment on those reports at all.

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

As denials and knock-downs go, that one is pretty solid. And unequivocal.

A few months earlier, Loeb was quoted in an op-ed article in the New York Times as saying: “Far from promoting stories about Lynch, the military didn’t like the story.”

As I also note in Getting It Wrong, the Pentagon’s then-spokeswoman, Victoria Clarke, told the Associated Press in June 2003: “We were downplaying [the Lynch story]. We weren’t hyping it.”

Even in the face of such denials, the notion the Pentagon concocted a phony hero-warrior story about Lynch has become the dominant narrative–one repeated blithely and often.

Interestingly, those pushing the Pentagon-made-it-up meme never seem to explain just how the veteran Post reporters on the Lynch story were so easily and thoroughly duped.

Loeb shared the byline on the story with Susan Schmidt, who later won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. Among those contributing to the story was Dana Priest, who also has won a Pulitzer.

And if the Pentagon had “ginned up” the hero-warrior story about Lynch, “it failed miserably in keeping the ruse from unraveling, ” I write in Getting It Wrong.

The day after the Post‘s “‘fighting to the death'” article appeared, the head of the Army hospital at Landstuhl, Germany, told reporters that Lynch had been neither shot nor stabbed–undercutting crucial elements of the hero-warrior tale.



<!–[if !mso]> the article that their information about Lynch and her heroics was from “U.S. officials” with access to what the reporters called “battlefield intelligence” compiled from “monitored communications and from Iraqi sources in Nasiriyah whose reliability has yet to be assessed.” The article said that “Pentagon officials … had heard ‘rumors’ of Lynch’s heroics but had no confirmation” to offer.[i]

[i] Schmidt and Loeb, “‘She Was Fighting to the Death,’” Washington Post.

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  1. [...] Tillman, the Army Ranger killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, the Washington Post invokes the Jessica Lynch case–but disingenuously shifts blame to the Pentagon for thrusting the former Army private into [...]

  2. [...] certainly makes for juicy story to claim the Pentagon for ginned up the tale about Lynch’s heroics. That story line fits well with the public’s curdled [...]

  3. [...] was Jamie McIntyre, former Pentagon correspondent for CNN. Afterward, we compared notes about the misreported Lynch case, which the Washington Post propelled into the public domain with a botched, front-page story in [...]

  4. [...] in the case of Jessica Lynch, the single most famous American soldier of the Iraq War, is that the Pentagon concocted a story about her battlefield heroics in order to boost popular support for the conflict. The Post's [...]

  5. [...] newspaper’s unwillingness to do so has allowed the false popular narrative that the Pentagon concocted the story to emerge and become dominant. Even one of the reporters on the Lynch story has said, [...]

  6. [...] electrifying but erroneous story about Lynch, then a 19-year-old Army private, turned her into the single most recognizable soldier [...]

  7. [...] Lynch heroics ‘ginned up by Bush-era Pentagon’? [...]

  8. [...] Pentagon concocted a tale about the battlefield heroics of Jessica Lynch, a waiflike Army private then [...]

  9. [...] the Lynch and bin Laden cases are inexact and misleading. The heroics attributed to Jessica Lynch weren’t “lies” spread by the U.S. military; the account of her battlefield derring-do was no “official account,” [...]

  10. [...] important, though, the Pentagon wasn’t the source for the hero-warrior tale about Jessica Lynch. It wasn’t “the Pentagon’s [...]

  11. [...] false narrative that the Pentagon cynically concocted the tale of her battlefield derring-do in Iraq has accompanied Jessica Lynch to Idaho, where she is [...]

  12. [...] tale about Lynch has been obscured in favor of a darker, more sinister narrative that the Pentagon concocted the story and fed it to the American [...]

  13. [...] accusation is, though, sometimes aimed at the Pentagon — that the military ginned up the hero-warrior tale about Lynch to bolster public support for the [...]

  14. [...] details of the Lynch case have been subordinated to a far more sinister narrative that says the Pentagon conjured the hero-warrior tale about the waif-like young woman in order to bolster popular support [...]

  15. [...] about its sources has contributed to the rise to a false narrative that the Pentagon concocted the hero-warrior tale in a cynical effort to bolster public support for the [...]

  16. [...] its sources also would puncture the false narrative that the U.S. military concocted the story about Lynch’s heroics in a cynical and devious attempt to bolster popular support in the United [...]

  17. [...] it’s exceedingly the top in the case of Jessica Lynch: The claim that the military made up the tale of her battlefield heroics is seriously misstated. And more than faintly ironic, given that it was [...]

  18. [...] identify the sources who led it astray, have given rise to the tenacious false narrative that the military ginned up the story to bolster support for the [...]

  19. [...] on the political left and the right has been to overlook  the journalistic origins of the bogus hero-warrior tale about Lynch and assign blame vaguely to such faceless entities as “the government” or [...]

  20. [...] know the Pentagon wasn’t the source of the Post’s exaggerated tale: Vernon Loeb, one of the reporters who wrote the story, said [...]

  21. [...] Jessica Lynch something of a celebrity and gave rise to misguided suspicions that the U.S. military concocted the hero-warrior tale and somehow fed it to the [...]

  22. [...] myth has it that the Pentagon concocted the tale about Lynch’s having fought fiercely in an ambush in Nasiriyah and fed the propaganda to a [...]

  23. [...] about Lynch began unraveling in the spring of 2003. As it did, a toxic narrative arose that the Pentagon (or, more broadly, the “military“) had concocted the story and somehow fed it to the [...]

  24. […] news reports sometimes have claimed — without citing supporting evidence — that the  Pentagon concocted the story about Lynch. In January, for example, London’s Independent newspaper […]

  25. […] the sourcing of the hero-warrior story, a false narrative has taken hold over the years that the Pentagon concocted the tale about Lynch’s battlefield derring-do, supposedly to build homefront support for the […]

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