W. Joseph Campbell

Lynch heroics not ‘the Pentagon’s story'; it was WaPo’s

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on May 12, 2011 at 9:50 am

Private Lynch: No hero-warrior

The mythical tale that the Pentagon concocted the story about Jessica Lynch’s battlefield heroics early in the Iraq War probably is just too delicious ever to be thoroughly debunked and forgotten.

The tale about the Pentagon’s purported fabrication turned up today in a syndicated column published by the Modesto Bee.

The column deplored the exaggerated early accounts of the slaying of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden. Initial reports offered by the Obama administration inaccurately described bin Laden as having used one of his wives as a shield during the Navy SEALS’ dramatic raid on his lair in Pakistan.

“To their credit,” wrote the columnist, Bob Franken, “Obama administration leaders quickly owned up, which is far better than some of the cover-ups attempted during the Bush years.”

Franken then invoked the Lynch case, writing: “In April 2003, she was captured after being seriously injured in southern Iraq. News media at the time bought the Pentagon’s story that PFC Lynch had been badly wounded and taken prisoner after she had blazed away during a firefight.”

Franken,  formerly a correspondent for CNN, also wrote: “The truth, as she acknowledged after her release, is that her injuries were the result of a Humvee crash that occurred as she and the others in her unit tried to flee.”

For starters, let’s check the date: Lynch was captured March 23, 2003, after Iraqis ambushed elements of Lynch’s unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, in Nasiriyah. She was rescued by a U.S. special forces team April 1, 2003.

More important, though, the Pentagon wasn’t the source for the hero-warrior tale about Jessica Lynch. It wasn’t “the Pentagon’s story.”

The story was thrust into the public domain exclusively by the Washington Post, which reported on April 3, 2003, that Lynch had fought fiercely in the ambush at Nasariyah, ” firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her….”

Above this dramatic story, the Post ran the headline: “‘She was fighting to the death.'”

The story was utterly false.

Lynch never fired a shot during the ambush; her weapon jammed.

She was neither shot nor stabbed, although the Post reported she had been so wounded. Lynch suffered shattering injuries in the crash of the Humvee, as Franken’s column mentions.

We know from Vernon Loeb, who shared a byline with Susan Schmidt on the original, inaccurate Lynch story, that the Pentagon wasn’t the source for that report.

As I note in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, Loeb went on NPR’s Fresh Air program in December 2003 and declared, unequivocally:

“Our sources for that story were not Pentagon sources.”

Loeb then was the Post’s defense correspondent, and he and Schmidt reported the Lynch hero-warrior story from Washington, D.C. He also said in the NPR interview that Pentagon officials “wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch.”

He also dismissed the interviewer’s suggestion that the Post’s “fighting to the death” report was the upshot of the Pentagon’s clever and cynical manipulation.

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

On another occasion, Loeb was quoted by the New York Times as saying:

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

Rarely do Loeb’s disclaimers 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 narrative about the Pentagon’s duplicity.

The false narrative, after all, conforms tidily and well to the curdled popular view that the Iraq War was a mistake, that it was a conflict waged on dubious grounds.

And yet no one who repeats or promotes the narrative about the Pentagon’s having concocted the story about Lynch ever explains how the Pentagon managed to dupe the Post so thoroughly that it published a bogus story.

I’d love to read a description about how that supposedly was accomplished.

WJC

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