W. Joseph Campbell

False narrative about Jessica Lynch and Pentagon surfaces anew

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on May 6, 2011 at 7:11 am

As the Obama Administration has made a hash of how terror leader Osama bin Laden was taken down, news outlets have blithely and misleadingly invoked false narrative about Jessica Lynch as a point of comparison.

Origin of the hero-warrior tale

The false narrative has it that the Pentagon concocted a tale about Lynch’s battlefield heroics in Iraq in 2003, fed it somehow to the Washington Post which spread the electrifying but bogus story around the world (see left).

In reality, the Pentagon treated the Lynch hero-warrior tale as if it were radioactive. The Post’s sensational story about Lynch, which was published April 3, 2003, indicated as much, referring to “Pentagon officials” as saying “they had heard ‘rumors’ of Lynch’s heroics but had had no confirmation.”

One of the Post reporters whose byline appeared on that story has stated unequivocally the Pentagon was not the newspaper’s source for the account of Lynch’s supposed derring-do.

“Our sources for that story were not Pentagon sources,” the reporter, Vernon Loeb, said in an interview on National Public Radio in late 2003.

Loeb, who then was the Post’s defense correspondent and now is the newspaper’s top editor for local news, also said in the NPR interview:

“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 Loeb’s exculpatory statements, the false narrative that the Pentagon concocted the story about Lynch lives on — and has been repeated this week by the likes of filmmaker Michael Moore.

“The government, especially the Pentagon,” Moore has been quoted as saying, “has a poor track record of telling the truth, starting with Jessica Lynch.”

Moore has been on Twitter this week, making similarly unsubstantiated claims about the Pentagon.

The Guardian in  London also has offered unsupported claims about the Pentagon’s role in the Lynch hero-warrior tale.

The newspaper yesterday noted that “the White House has been busy messing up the aftermath [of bin Laden’s killing] with a display of PR ineptness that is remarkable.”

Notable among the administration’s flubs and mixed messages about bin Laden was the account, since repudiated, that the mastermind of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, hid behind one of his wives before he was fatally shot by the U.S. commando team.

The Guardian article also declared:

“Whether it’s Islamists hoping Bin Laden is not dead or conservatives wondering if the facts are being manipulated in the way Pentagon officials did over Private Jessica Lynch during the Iraq war, this is precisely the opposite of what the Oval Office wanted.”

The Associated Press wire service has turned to the false narrative as well, asserting in a dispatch yesterday: “Initial military accounts of Jessica Lynch’s resistance to her captors were part of an effort to rally public support for the war, and were factually wrong.”

As I note in Getting It Wrong, making up the hero-warrior story to boost support for the conflict would have been nonsense: At the time, Americans in overwhelming numbers said they backed the war in Iraq.

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.

Timothy Egan, writing at the New York Times’ “Opinionator” blog, revisited the Lynch case yesterday without once mentioning the Washington Post.

The Pentagon, after all, is a convenient foil and as I note in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, the bogus tale about Lynch corresponds well to the curdled popular view about the war in Iraq.

The Post, moreover, has never adequately explained how it got the Lynch story so thoroughly wrong.

Sgt. Walters

Nor has the Post ever had much to say about the American soldier who probably did perform the heroics that were misattributed to Lynch. His name was Donald Walters, a cook-sergeant in Lynch’s unit, which came under attack in Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq, on March 23, 2003.

Walters put down covering fire that allowed his comrades to attempt to flee.

Walters is believed to have fought until he was out of ammunition. He was overwhelmed, taken prisoner, and executed soon afterward.

A measure of the Post’s indifference about Walters can be found in searching a database of articles that the newspaper has published since 2003.  In that time, the Post has carried just two articles that even mention Donald Walters.

WJC

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