I did an engaging and entertaining in-studio interview yesterday on the Lanigan & Malone show, one of the most popular radio programs in Cleveland, the gritty city where I cut my teeth, journalistically, years ago.
They included the case of Jessica Lynch, the waiflike Army private whom the Washington Post elevated to hero status in a sensational but utterly erroneous report early in the Iraq War in 2003.
The Post depicted Lynch as having “fought fiercely” in the Iraqi ambush at Nasiriyah of the Army’s 507th Maintenance Company. The newspaper said Lynch had “shot several enemy soldiers” and kept “firing her weapon until she ran out of ammunition.”
The Lynch case, I said during the Lanigan & Malone interview, appears to have centered around a case of mistaken identity. 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.
I pointed out during the interview how war and conflict can readily give rise to myth and misunderstanding. Indeed, half the chapters in Getting It Wrong are related to warfare, including the book’s first chapter, the myth of William Randolph Hearst’s infamous vow to “furnish the war” with Spain.
We moved on to discuss the myth that widespread panic and mass hysteria characterized the reactions to the 1938 radio dramatization of The War of the Worlds, then jumped to a discussion of the myth of superlative reporting of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath in September 2005, and considered at some length about what I call the “nuanced myth” of bra-burning.
“Bra-smoldering,” I said, would be a more accurate characterization of what happened during the women’s liberation protest at Atlantic City in September 1968. My research shows that bras and other items were set afire, if briefly, during the demonstration against that year’s Miss America pageant.
“All these are ruined,” Lanigan said at one point about the myths debunked in Getting It Wrong.
We also discussed the Bay of Pigs-New York Times suppression myth. That myth centers around a telephone call President John F. Kennedy supposedly placed to the Times publisher or top editors in April 1961, asking that the newspaper hold off on reporting about the pending CIA-supported invasion of Cuba.
There is no evidence, I said, that Kennedy ever placed such a call. (Or even had time to place such a call.)
What appears to have happened is that the Bay of Pigs-suppression myth has become confounded with the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, during which Kennedy did call the Times to request a delay on a report about nuclear-tipped missiles the Soviets had deployed on the island.
“It’s a good book,” he said afterward. “I’m glad he did it.”