In the debate about women being permitted to join U.S. military combat units, it was inevitable the media myth would resurface about Jessica Lynch and her purported battlefield heroics in Iraq nearly 10 years ago.
The newspaper referred to Lynch as a name fresh “in America’s collective memory” and asserted that “initial reports from the Pentagon exaggerated her story as it waged a propaganda war, stating that she had fought back heroically against the enemy when in fact she had never fired her weapon.”
Lynch was an element of a Pentagon “propaganda war”?
Not according to Vernon Loeb, the Washington Post reporter who helped thrust the hero-warrior tale about Lynch into the public domain in an electrifying but utterly inaccurate front-page story published April 3, 2003. Loeb has said the Pentagon wasn’t the source of the Post’s story about Lynch, which it pegged to otherwise anonymous “U.S. officials.”
Under the byline of Loeb and Susan Schmidt, the Post reported that Lynch, then a 19-year-old Army private in a support unit, kept firing at attacking Iraqis “even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her in fighting” at Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003.
The Post quoted one anonymous official as saying that Lynch “‘was fighting to the death. She did not want to be taken alive.’”
The story turned out to be wrong in every significant detail: Lynch never fired a shot in the attack at Nasiriyah; her weapon jammed during the deadly ambush in which 11 American soldiers were killed.
Lynch was neither shot nor stabbed, as Loeb and Schmidt reported, but suffered shattering injuries to her back, legs, and arms in the crash of a Humvee in which she was attempting to flee.
She was taken prisoner and treated at an Iraqi hospital, from where she was rescued April 1, 2003, by a U.S. special forces team.
The Post, though, has never identified the “U.S. officials” who led it so badly astray.
In the interview, Loeb declared flatly:
“Our sources for that story were not Pentagon sources.”
Loeb also said that he “could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about” the Lynch case.
“They wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch,” Loeb declared, adding:
“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.”
Although Loeb’s remarks have long been in the public domain, the Independent is the latest of many news organizations to have ignored or overlooked them, blithely offering instead the juicy but unsubstantiated claim that “the Pentagon exaggerated her story.”
The claim is a weak one, even without Loeb’s disclaimer. After all, in the early days of the Iraq War, the Pentagon had little reason to exploit the Lynch case as a way to boost popular support for the conflict.
“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.”
Among those public opinion polls was a Washington Post-ABC News survey conducted in late March and early April 2003 — when Lynch was much in the news. The poll found that eight of 10 Americans felt the war effort was going well, and 71 percent approved of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq situation.
More from Media Myth Alert:
- Women at the front: Recalling Jessica Lynch in Iraq
- Digitally scrubbing WaPo’s embarrassment on Jessica Lynch?
- Jon Krakauer rolls back claims about WaPo ‘source’ in Jessica Lynch case
- Halberstam the ‘unimpeachable’? Try myth-promoter
- The military’s ‘fabrication’? No, Jessica Lynch was WaPo’s story
- Pentagon ‘caught creating false narrative’ about Lynch? How so?
- Too good to be disbelieved: The military, myth, and Jessica Lynch
- Why WaPo should reveal sources on bogus Jessica Lynch tale
- Some snarky history from WaPo
- ‘You might bring down a government’: Sure, that happens
- Recalling the overlooked heroism of Sgt. Walters
- Obama, journalism history, and ‘folks like Hearst’
- ‘We’re trying to toughen you up’: Never happened with Obama and news media
- Where do they get this stuff?
- Getting It Wrong goes on Q-and-A