W. Joseph Campbell

Recalling who gave us the ‘manufactured heroism’ of Jessica Lynch

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Watergate myth on August 22, 2011 at 5:09 am

Lynch: No hero, she

I’ve noted how remarkable it is that the Washington Post so thoroughly eludes censure for placing the bogus hero-warrior tale about Jessica Lynch into the public domain during the first days of the Iraq War.

Confirmation of that observation came yesterday in an otherwise thoughtful essay in the New York Times about the deference Americans across the political spectrum tend to pay the military.

The essay described the Lynch case not as a stunning example of errant journalism but as “an instrument of propaganda.”

The essay, written by William Deresiewicz, asserts that in 2003, “we were treated to the manufactured heroism of Jessica D. Lynch, the young supply clerk who was rescued from an Iraqi hospital a few days after her capture by enemy forces (both events turning out to be far less cinematic than initially put out) and who finally felt compelled to speak out against her own use as an instrument of propaganda.”

Great line, “manufactured heroism.”

But who really was responsible for the “manufactured heroism”?

Deresiewicz avoids saying.

He fails to identify the Washington Post as solely responsible for placing the hero-warrior tale about Lynch into worldwide circulation.

He doesn’t say that the Post’s botched story about Lynch’s purported heroics was picked up by news organizations around the world, turning the 19-year-old Army private into the best-known American solider of the Iraq War.

WaPo's botched hero-warrior story

It was the Post, citing otherwise unnamed “U.S. officials,” that offered up the electrifying tale about how Lynch “fought fiercely and shot several enemy soldiers after Iraqi forces ambushed” her unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, in Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003.

It was the Post that reported Lynch “continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her” in the fighting.

None of it was true, however.

Lynch never fired a shot in Iraq. Her weapon jammed during the ambush. Her shattering injuries were suffered in the crash of a Humvee as it fled the attack.

It wasn’t long before the Post’s erroneous report about Lynch’s derring-do began to unravel.

But as I discuss in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, the newspaper in the years since has never fully explained how it got the Lynch story so badly wrong.

Nor has the Post ever identified the sources who led it so badly astray.

And why has the Post sidestepped blame for the botched Lynch narrative? Why isn’t the newspaper more routinely cited in essays, such as Deresiewicz’s, that invoke the Lynch case?

It’s principally because 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 for the Iraq War.

It’s a perversely appealing narrative — and it’s quite false.

As Vernon Loeb, one of the Post reporters who shared a byline on the botched Lynch story in 2003, has said:

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

Loeb also said, in an interview that aired on NPR’s Fresh Air program in mid-December 2003:

“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.”

Loeb said the story was provided by “some really good intelligence sources” in Washington, D.C., adding:

“We wrote a story that turned out to be wrong because intelligence information we were given was wrong. That happens quite often.”

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

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

What’s more, the notion the Pentagon’s made up the story  — and somehow fed it to the Post — to bolster popular support for the war doesn’t make much sense. After all, the American public in overwhelming numbers supported the war in its early days and months.

But it’s clear that if not for the Post, the “manufactured” tale of Lynch’s heroism never would have circulated as it did.

Far from being an “instrument of propaganda,” the Lynch hero-warrior narrative is a case of bungled reporting that has never been adequately explained, let alone corrected.

WJC

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  8. [...] two American soldiers their readers can name (the other is Jessica Lynch, whose own fame traces to a fabricated story made up by Dana Priest and Vernon Loeb of the Washington Post). The Left took to Twitter to call all Marines, [...]

  9. [...] commentary and the interview, Fox ignored the singular role of the Washington Post in placing the hero-warrior tale about Lynch into the public domain in what was a sensational, front page story published April 3, [...]

  10. [...] two American soldiers their readers can name (the other is Jessica Lynch, whose own fame traces to a fabricated story made up by Dana Priest and Vernon Loeb of the Washington Post). The Left took to Twitter to call all Marines, [...]

  11. [...] newspaper cited otherwise unidentified “U.S. officials” and said Lynch, a supply clerk, had fought fiercely in the ambush at Nasiriyah, that she had “continued [...]

  12. [...] The box carries the headline, “Saving Pfc Lynch,” and offers a link to an article published in the Post April 4, 2003, a day after the botched hero-warrior tale. [...]

  13. [...] versions of the newspaper’s embarrassingly wrong reports about Jessica Lynch’s supposed heroics during the Iraq [...]

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