W. Joseph Campbell

‘Salon’ offers up repudiated Lynch-source claim

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Washington Post on December 21, 2011 at 8:47 am

The fallout is unending from the botched Washington Post story about Jessica Lynch’s heroics early in the Iraq War.

The online news and commentary site Salon offered up the other day the discredited claim that the hero-warrior tale about Jessica Lynch was the work of a former White House communications official named Jim Wilkinson.

Salon asserted, without attribution, that Wilkinson was known “for inventing the false story of Jessica Lynch,” a 19-year-old Army supply clerk whom the Post erroneously said had fought fiercely in the ambush of her unit in Iraq in March 2003.

The Post’s electrifying report was published April 3, 2003, and picked up by news organizations around the world. The story soon proved utterly wrong in its most important details, notably that Lynch had never fired a shot in the attack.

Salon’s claim about Wilkinson was an echo of a since-repudiated assertion in Jon Krakauer’s 2009 book, Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman.

Krakauer claimed — without attribution — that Wilkinson was the Post’s source on the Lynch story. Krakauer asserted that Wilkinson was  “a master propagandist” and “the guy who deserved top billing for creating the myth of Jessica Lynch.”

Wilkinson — who at the time was director of strategic communications for the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General Tommy Franks — vigorously denied he was the newspaper’s source.

The Post has never identified the sources who led it so badly awry on the Lynch report.

Wilkinson said he discussed corrections with Krakauer late last year. The unflattering claims about him were removed in a recent paperback printing of Where Men Win Glory, which included a footnote, saying:

“Earlier editions of this book stated that it was Jim Wilkinson ‘who arranged to give the Washington Post exclusive access’ to this leaked intelligence [about Jessica Lynch]. This is incorrect. Wilkinson had nothing to do with the leak.”

Salon’s claim about Wilkinson was included in a commentary posted Monday, that scoffed at speculation that former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice might seek the Republican nomination for vice president.

Asked by email about Salon’s claim about his “inventing” the Lynch hero-warrior tale, Wilkinson replied:

“Craziness! Wish they would leave me alone.”

The author of the Salon commentary, Alex Pareene, said by email yesterday that he had relied on Krakauer’s book in offering the claim about Wilkinson.

Pareene also said:

“I was unaware of Krakauer’s correction, and it’s worth an explanatory note.”

He later appended a footnote to his commentary, citing Krakauer’s rollback and stating that Wilkinson “apparently isn’t responsible for falsifying [Lynch’s] actions or leaking that false story to the press.”

So now, how about some transparency from the Washington Post?

By disclosing the identities of its sources on the Lynch case, the Post would help put an end to the erroneous speculation of the kind that has injured Wilkinson’s reputation.

Disclosing 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 States for the war in Iraq.

As I point out in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, one of the Post reporters on the botched report about Lynch has said flatly, “Our sources for that story were not Pentagon sources.”

What’s more, public opinion polls in the early days of the Iraq War showed “there was little reason for morale-boosting among Americans,” I write in Getting It Wrong, adding:

“It may be little-recalled now, but the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was widely supported by the American public. Polling data from March and April 2003, the opening days and weeks of the war, show an overwhelming percentage of Americans supported the conflict and believed the war effort, overall, was going well.”

WJC

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