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.
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 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.”
“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.”
Despite substantial evidence to the contrary.