W. Joseph Campbell

Jessica Lynch returns to spotlight in unedifying Bio interview

In Debunking, Jessica 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 Post and its erroneous report that thrust her into unsought and largely undeserved fame early in the Iraq War.

Lynch, an Army supply clerk taken prisoner after her unit was ambushed at Nasiriyah in March 2003, was said by the Post in a sensational front-page account that to have fiercely battled her Iraqi attackers.

That Post‘s report–published April 3, 2003, beneath the headline “‘She Was Fighting to the Death'”–made her the single best-known Army private of the war.

Lynch, then 19, was rescued by U.S. special forces after nine days in captivity at an Iraqi hospital.

She was interviewed by William Shatner, the actor of Star Trek fame, on the Bio channel’s Aftermath show, which  seeks to catch up on people who once had been famous, or notorious.

Probing, Shatner proved not to be.

He was sappy, patronizing, and wholly uninterested in the derivation of the erroneous but electrifying story of Lynch’s battlefield heroics.

Shatner referred vaguely to the “machinery of publicity” and the “stage-managed media frenzy,” clearly suggesting–but not explicitly stating–that the Pentagon had concocted the hero-warrior story.

Astonishingly, neither Shatner nor Lynch spoke specifically about the Washington Post report that was solely responsible for placing her name and supposed heroics into the public domain.

The Post said in its hero-warrior story that Lynch had been shot and stabbed by attacking Iraqis, but had kept “firing her weapon until she ran out of ammunition.”

It was stunning detail, but none of it was true.

Lynch never fired a shot at Nasiriyah. She suffered severe injuries not from gunfire, but from the crash of the Humvee in which she tried to flee the ambush.

The Aftermath interview made no mention of the account offered by Vernon Loeb, a reporter who shared a byline on the hero-warrior story about Lynch. Loeb, in an interview with NPR’s Fresh Air program late in late 2003, made clear the Pentagon was not the source for the erroneous story about Lynch.

In the Fresh Air interview–which I cite in Getting It Wrong, my new book debunking prominent media-driven myths–Loeb said of U.S. military officials:

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

He 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.”

On another occasion, Loeb was quoted in 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 the hero-warrior story about Lynch, Loeb characterized them as “U.S. officials” who were “really good intelligence sources” in Washington, where he was based.

But more than seven years later, the identity of the Post‘s sources on the hero-warrior story remain unclear.

Lynch, who remained fairly poised throughout the hour-long Aftermath interview, said at one point “it would have been easy for me” to have adopted the hero’s mantle and embraced the Post‘s report about her supposed derring-do.

But in reality, doing so would have been untenable.

As I note in Getting It Wrong, the colonel commanding the Army hospital at Landstuhl, Germany, where Lynch was treated after her rescue, told journalists the day after the Post published its hero-warrior story that Lynch had been neither shot nor stabbed.

He thus undercut a crucial element of the hero-warrior narrative.

And as I write in Getting It Wrong:

“If the military was complicit in fabricating the Lynch saga, it defies logic to believe that it would permit one of its own, an Army colonel, to impugn that narrative just as it had begun circulating around the world.”

WJC

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