Shepard Smith interviewed former Army private Jessica Lynch on his Fox News afternoon program yesterday and indulged in the notion that “the government” deviously made up the tale about Lynch’s battlefield heroics early in the Iraq War.
Smith, however, made no attempt to specify to whom in “the government” may have concocted the tale.
The Post’s report — which was picked up by news organizations around the world — said Lynch had fought fiercely in the ambush of her unit in Nasiriyah, Iraq, that she kept firing at her attackers even though her comrades were killed all around her.
The Post’s article was reported mostly in Washington and was published beneath the headline:
“‘She was fighting to the death.’”
It was an electrifying account, but thoroughly wrong in crucial details.
Lynch had not fired a shot in the attack. She was injured not by gunfire but in the crash of her Humvee in attempting to flee the ambush. She was captured and hospitalized by the Iraqis, and rescued nine days later by U.S. special forces.
Smith’s interview with Lynch offered further evidence of an inclination, shared by commentators on the political left as well as the right, to overlook the journalistic origins of the bogus hero-warrior tale about Lynch and to ascribe blame, vaguely and conspiratorially, to entities such as “the government” or “the military.”
Never when such claims are raised is a culprit identified. And rarely is the Post’s botched reporting recalled or much discussed.
But to overlook the newspaper’s central role in the bogus tale about Lynch is not only misleading, it’s unaccountably sloppy.
For her part, Lynch did not challenge Smith’s vague claims that “the government” concocted the tale about her heroism in Iraq.
“When you were captured,” Smith asked her, “that whole government story came out. Uh, you as one — shoot ‘em up, rescuing everyone. That’s not what happened. And you called out the government on its lies. How did you get the strength and wherewithal to do that?”
“I felt that I had to because I knew those weren’t the accurate stories. And I just wouldn’t be able to live with myself…”
Lynch said “it would have been so easy for me to take credit” for the battlefield heroics wrongly attributed to her, “to go along with their stories, but that’s not who I am, that’s not how I was raised.”
Smith also asked:
“Have you had contact with anyone from the then-government of the United States that did all that?”
No, replied Lynch, “I feel it’s in the past. I’ve done my part in setting the record straight.”
But the record hardly has been set straight.
As yesterday’s interview suggests, the notion that the U.S. government concocted the hero-warrior tale for propaganda purposes has emerged as the popular dominant narrative of the Lynch case, obscuring evidence that the government — notably the Pentagon — had little to do with pushing the bogus tale.
He said the Post was “told by some really good intelligence sources here in Washington that, you know, there were indications that she had, you know, fired back and resisted her capture and actually been shot and possibly stabbed doing so.
“None of this turned out to be the case as we, you know, quickly learned. But, you know, we basically told our readers that day [April 3, 2003] what the U.S. intelligence community was telling senior members of the U.S. government. It just kind of goes back to the old adage that, you know, initial reports from the battlefield are almost always wrong.”
Loeb, who then was the Post’s defense correspondent, also said in the interview:
“I could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about those reports at all. I got indications that they had, in fact, received those intelligence reports, but the Pentagon was completely unwilling to comment on those reports at all. They 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.”
The hoopla associated with the Lynch case, I point out in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, has “had the effect of blurring recognition of the American soldier whose actions at Nasiriyah were heroic and probably were misattributed to Lynch, initially.
“He was Sergeant Donald Walters, a cook in the 507thMaintenance Company,” Lynch’s Army unit.
In the ambush at Nasiriyah, “Walters either stayed behind, or was left behind, to lay down covering fire as his fellow soldiers tried to make their escape,” I write. “Walters fought his attackers in a fashion that the Post attributed to Lynch.”
Walters fought until he was out of ammunition; he was taken prisoner and soon after executed by his captors.
The Army eventually acknowledged that Walters’ conduct “likely prevented his unit from suffering additional casualties and loss of life” and posthumously awarded him the Silver Star, the U.S. military’s third-highest decoration for valor.
Interestingly, Lynch seldom mentions Donald Walters; she made no reference to him yesterday during her interview with Smith.
Recent and relevant:
- The military’s ‘fabrication’? No, Jessica Lynch was WaPo’s story
- Jon Krakauer rolls back claims about WaPo ‘source’ in Lynch case
- Recalling the hero of Nasiriyah: It wasn’t Jessica Lynch
- False narrative about Jessica Lynch and Pentagon surfaces anew
- Fox News misremembers Watergate and ‘follow the money’
- Every good historian a mythbuster
- ‘‘Getting It Wrong’ wins SPJ award for Research about Journalism