W. Joseph Campbell

Two weeks on: Still waiting for WaPo on missing Jessica Lynch online content

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Newspapers, Washington Post on May 11, 2012 at 9:41 am

Lynch photo at WaPo’s Iraq archive

Two weeks ago, the Washington Post ombudsman promised to look into questions I had posed about the unavailable digital versions of the newspaper’s embarrassingly wrong reports about Jessica Lynch’s supposed heroics during the Iraq War.

I’m still waiting a response from the ombudsman, Patrick Pexton.

At issue are empty links for at least three articles and commentaries about Lynch that appeared in the Post in 2003 — all of which are keenly embarrassing to the newspaper. Among them is the Post’s infamous “Fighting to the Death” story of April 3, 2003, which is at the heart of the bogus hero-warrior tale about Lynch.

That story — which isn’t available at the Post’s online site — described Lynch’s purported derring-do on the battlefield, saying she fought fiercely in an ambush in Nasiriyah and was captured only after running out of ammunition.

As it turned out, the story was utterly wrong in all important details. Lynch never fired a shot in Iraq; she was neither shot nor stabbed, as the Post had reported, but badly injured in the crash of a Humvee as it fled the ambush. (I discuss the Post’s handling of the Lynch case in a chapter in my latest book, Getting It Wrong.)

Another element of the Post’s narrative about Lynch that’s missing online is a column written several days later by Michael Getler, then the newspaper’s ombudsman. Getler criticized the hero-warrior story, noting that readers thought it suspicious.

In mid-June 2003, the Post grudgingly walked back from aspects of its hero-warrior tale — an embarrassment that media critic Christopher Hansen characterized as “the journalistic equivalent of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.”

The Post’s walk-back article also is unavailable online.

But at least one of the Post’s  stories about Lynch in 2003 is freely available online, as I’ve noted in email messages to Pexton.

That article — which is decidedly non-embarrassing to the Post – was published April 4, 2003; there’s a functioning link to it at the newspaper’s link-rich digital archive about the Iraq War. Interestingly, the only U.S. soldier identified by name and image at the archive site is Jessica Lynch.

So why aren’t the Post’s other reports about Lynch available at that online archive? If some Lynch-related content from 2003 is freely available, why not the rest? Wouldn’t restoring all Lynch content make the digital archive richer, more comprehensive, and more balanced?

I believe it would.

I’ve asked Pexton: “Does the embarrassment quotient explain this apparent inconsistency?” In other words, is the Post too embarrassed by its botched reporting about Lynch to make the links freely available online?

I suspect so.

Pexton did say in an email 14 days ago that his looking into my questions “will take some considerable time to research, but I’ll check into it. It’s very hard to trace some of this back when The Post has gone through several computer systems since that time, but I’ll make an effort.”

In reply, I suggested that the matter could be readily distilled by focusing on this question:

“Why is some Lynch-related content from 2003 freely available online (see here), while other and more embarrassing content (see empty links here, here, and here) not available?”

I sent Pexton follow-up email messages on May 1 and May 7. In those email, I asked why the empty links about the Lynch case couldn’t be restored and added to the digital archive about the Iraq War.

I have received no reply.

And that’s a bit odd because Pexton, in a column in March, pointedly urged Post staffers to be responsive to inquiries, writing:

“Return the blessed phone calls and e-mails from readers! And do it with courtesy, respect and politeness, even when the caller, or writer, is persistent or even unpleasant. Please.”

That’s advice too good to be ignored.

WJC

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