W. Joseph Campbell

Too good to be disbelieved: The military, myth, and Jessica Lynch

In Jessica Lynch, Washington Post on May 10, 2010 at 2:01 pm

I blogged last week about how the international spotlight periodically lands on Jessica Lynch, even though seven years have passed since a sensational but erroneous report in the Washington Post vaulted her to unsought fame and celebrity.

The spotlight has dimmed considerably in the years since the Post article about the Army private’s supposed heroics in an ambush in Nasiriyah in southern Iraq in 2003.

But when the spotlight does find Lynch, the dubious notion that the military promoted the fictional account of her battlefield derring-do inevitably seems to reemerge.

Such was the case yesterday in an article about Lynch in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The article asserted, without attribution, that “military officials, in widely circulated reports early in the war, initially described her as a female Rambo who fought back fiercely after the ambush. Ms. Lynch has maintained she never fired her weapon and was knocked unconscious during the attack.”

My forthcoming book on media-driven myths, titled Getting It Wrong, revisits the Lynch case, recalling how the Washington Post reported that Lynch had “fought fiercely” when her unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, was ambushed at Nasiriyah, that she had “shot several enemy soldiers” and had kept “firing her weapon until she ran out of ammunition.”

News organizations “around the world,” I write, “followed the Post’s lead by prominently reporting the supposed heroics of young Jessica Lynch and contemplating their significance.”

These outlets included the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette which at the time predicted Lynch “appears headed for life as an American icon, regardless of whether she likes it.”

Lynch is no icon, and her battlefield heroics were misattributed:  It wasn’t Lynch who had fought heroically at Nasiriyah, it was most likely Donald Walters, a cook-sergeant in Lynch’s unit who, after running out of ammunition, was captured by Iraqi irregulars, and executed.

Walters’ selfless deeds at Nasiriyah have received nothing akin to the attention bestowed upon Lynch, who suffered shattering injuries in the crash of a Humvee as she and others tried to flee the ambush.

Lynch, then 19, was taken prisoner and treated at by Iraqis a hospital in Nasiriyah, from where she was rescued on April 1, 2003, by a U.S. special operations team.

The Post's botched story

The Post has never disclosed the sources of its botched report about Lynch. The article, which was published on the front page on April 3, 2003, vaguely cited “U.S. officials.”

But as I note in Getting It Wrong, the newspaper’s then defense writer, Vernon Loeb, went on an NPR program in late 2003 and said he “could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about” the raw, battlefield intelligence reports that hinted of Lynch’s heroism.

“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,” Loeb said in an interview on the “Fresh Air” show. “They wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch.”

Loeb added:

“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.”

Like many media-driven myths, the notion that the Pentagon pushed the phony hero-warrior story of Jessica Lynch has proven irresistible–too good and delicious, almost, to be disbelieved.

Despite substantial evidence to the contrary.

WJC

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  1. [...] included the case of Jessica Lynch, the waiflike Army private whom the Washington Post elevated to hero status in a sensational but [...]

  2. [...] Too good to be misbelieved: The military, myth, and Jessica Lynch [...]

  3. [...] at the Pentagon for supposedly concocting a hero-warrior story around 19-year-old Army private Jessica Lynch in the early days of the Iraq [...]

  4. [...] singular role in publicizing the erroneous hero-warrior tale about Jessica Lynch who, because of botched reporting by the Post, unwittingly became the best-known Army private of the Iraq [...]

  5. [...] Too good to be disbelieved: The military, myth, and Jessica Lynch [...]

  6. [...] Too good to be disbelieved: The military, myth, and Jessica Lynch [...]

  7. [...] the Post in propelling Lynch into unwarranted fame receded in favor of the false narrative that the Pentagon made up the hero-warrior [...]

  8. [...] the hero-warrior narrative–published beneath the bylines of Loeb and Susan Schmidt–was [...]

  9. [...] claim is an element of the multidimensional media myth that has come to define the Lynch case, which I examine in my mythbusting book, Getting It [...]

  10. [...] Too good to be disbelieved: The military, myth, and Jessica Lynch [...]

  11. [...] marks the eighth anniversary of the swiftly executed rescue of Private Jessica Lynch from a hospital in Iraq, an event long since steeped in myth and distortion. The prevailing [...]

  12. [...] identified (but should), offered the world a sensational report about the battlefield heroics of Lynch, then a 19-year-old Army supply clerk who never expected to see [...]

  13. [...] Too good to be disbelieved: The military, myth, and Jessica Lynch [...]

  14. [...] It’s quite remarkable indeed how the singular role of the Post in reporting and spreading bogus story about Lynch has receded so thoroughly in favor of the false narrative that blames the Pentagon for having made it all up. [...]

  15. [...] It’s quite remarkable indeed how the singular role of the Post in reporting and spreading the bogus story about Lynch has receded so thoroughly in favor of the false narrative that blames the Pentagon for having made it all up. [...]

  16. [...] the story about Jessica Lynch’s battlefield heroics early in the Iraq War probably is just too delicious ever to be thoroughly debunked and [...]

  17. [...] time, the singular role of the Post in the bogus hero-warrior story about Lynch has [...]

  18. [...] noted how remarkable it is that the Washington Post so thoroughly eludes censure for placing the bogus hero-warrior tale about Jessica Lynch into the public domain during the first days of the Iraq [...]

  19. [...] Too good to be disbelieved: The military, myth, and Jessica Lynch [...]

  20. [...] Lynch story — a Post exclusive that was picked up by news organizations around the world — was [...]

  21. [...] Post erroneously reported that Lynch, an Army supply clerk, had fought fiercely in the ambush of her unit in Nasiriyah, in southern [...]

  22. [...] Too good to be disbelieved: The military, myth, and Jessica Lynch [...]

  23. [...] myth has it that the Pentagon concocted the tale about Lynch’s having fought fiercely in an ambush [...]

  24. […] was a 19-year-old Army private whom the Post catapulted to international fame in a story in April 2003 that claimed she fought fiercely in an ambush in Iraq, firing at her […]

  25. […] Over the years, though, the role of the Post in propelling Lynch into unwarranted international fame has receded in favor of a false narrative that the Pentagon made it all up. […]

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