W. Joseph Campbell

Lynch blames ‘military, media’ for bogus hero story, ignores WaPo

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on December 19, 2011 at 8:09 am

Jessica Lynch has blamed the “military and the media” for the bogus story about her battlefield heroics in the opening days of the Iraq War — but ignored mentioning the Washington Post, which was solely responsible for circulating the erroneous if electrifying tale.

Lynch’s remarks were made in an as-told-to article posted yesterday at the Daily Beast, an online site affiliated with Newsweek magazine.

“Though I didn’t know it at the time,” she said, “the military and the media labeled me a hero. They said I’d gone down guns blazing, like Rambo, when really my rifle had jammed and I hadn’t shot a soul.”

She was referring to the hero-warrior tale the Washington Post thrust into the public domain in a sensational, front-page report on April 3, 2003.

The Post said Lynch, then a 19-year-old Army private, had fought fiercely in the ambush of her unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, at Nasariyah in March 2003.

The botched hero-warrior story

The Post referred anonymously to “U.S. officials” in reporting that Lynch shot several enemy soldiers” in the ambush and “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.

The hero-warrior tale — published beneath the headline “‘She was fighting to the death'” — made terrific copy, and news organizations around the world picked up the story.

As I note in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, Lynch became the best-known Army private of the war.

But the story soon proved thoroughly in error. Lynch never fired a shot in the ambush. She was neither shot nor stabbed. She suffered shattering injuries in the crash of a Humvee as it attempted to flee the ambush.

The bogus story clearly wasn’t the work of multiple news organizations. It was the Post’s story, exclusively.

The Post has never fully explained how it got the dramatic story about Lynch so utterly wrong; nor has the newspaper disclosed the identity of its sources on the bogus story.

Its silence about the sources has allowed a false narrative to fester and spread — namely, that the military concocted the story about Lynch’s heroics and fed it to the Post in a cynical attempt to bolster popular support in the United States for the war in Iraq.

That version, though quite vague, has proved very popular, as suggested by Lynch’s comments posted at the Daily Beast.

But we know from one of the Post reporters on the botched hero-warrior story that the Pentagon wasn’t the newspaper’s source.

The reporter, Vernon Loeb, told NPR in mid-December 2003: “Our sources for that story were not Pentagon sources.”

He also said in the NPR interview that military officials “wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch.

“I’ve never believed that at least as far as the story we wrote goes, that it was a Pentagon attempt to create a hero there.”

Loeb said that “we basically told our readers that day what basically the U.S. intelligence community was telling senior members of the U.S. government. It just kind of goes back to the old adage, you know, that initial reports from the battlefield are almost always wrong.”

It bears repeating: Responsibility for spreading the erroneous account lies neither with the “military” nor with the “media”; it rests solely with the Washington Post.

WJC

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