Author Jon Krakauer has quietly retreated from claims in a 2009 book that a former White House official, Jim Wilkinson, was the source for the Washington Post’s botched report about Jessica Lynch and her supposed battlefield heroics early in the Iraq War.
The claims were removed in a recent printing of the book’s paperback edition, which now contains a footnote, saying:
“Earlier editions of this book stated that it was Jim Wilkinson ‘who arranged to give the Washington Post exclusive access’ to this leaked intelligence [about Jessica Lynch]. This is incorrect. Wilkinson had nothing to do with the leak.”
The Post has never identified the sources for its report, published on its front page April 3, 2003, that said Lynch had fought fiercely in the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company at Nasiriyah in southern Iraq on March 23, 2003.
The Post’s account cited “U.S. officials” in saying that Lynch, a 19-year-old supply clerk, had kept “firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her in fighting” at Nasiriyah.
The Post’s electrifying report about the waif-like Army private was picked up by news organizations around the world.
But none of it was true.
As I discuss in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, Lynch never fired a shot at Nasiriyah; her rifle jammed during the attack. She suffered shattering injuries when a rocket-propelled grenade struck her Humvee, causing the vehicle to crash. But Lynch was not shot.
She was taken prisoner and treated at an Iraqi hospital, from where she was rescued April 1, 2003, by a U.S. special operations team.
In the years since, the Post has never adequately explained how it so thoroughly erred on the hero-warrior story about Lynch; nor has it disclosed the identities of the “U.S. officials” who led the newspaper awry.
Vernon Loeb, one of the reporters who shared the byline on the botched Lynch story, has said that the Pentagon was not the source for the report.
“I could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about those reports at all,” Loeb said on an NPR program in mid-December 2003, adding:
“They wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch.”
Even so, the false narrative about Lynch and the Pentagon persists and has deflected attention from the Army sergeant who apparently did fight to the death at Nasiriyah. He was Donald Walters, who laid down covering fire as elements of the 507th tried to flee the ambush.
Walters was captured when his ammunition ran out and was executed by his captors soon afterward.
At the time of the battle at Nasiriyah, Wilkinson was director of strategic communications for General Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. Among his prior positions, Wilkinson was deputy director of communications at the White House.
Wilkinson, who had vigorously denied the claims about him in Where Men Win Glory, said he met with Krakauer nearly a year ago in Colorado to discuss corrections.
At that meeting, Wilkinson said, the author told him that his source recanted claims about Wilkinson.
Wilkinson told Media Myth Alert that he was grateful to Krakauer for correcting the record, adding that he feels “100 times better” that the book’s extensive and unflattering assertions about him have been removed. “I greatly appreciate his willingness to meet with me and then issue a corrected version of the book that clears my name,” Wilkinson said.
The unflattering assertions were dropped in June, in what was the 17th printing of the Anchor Books soft-cover edition of Where Men Win Glory. Anchor, an imprint of Random House, issued no announcement about the revisions.
In earlier editions of Where Men Win Glory, Krakauer called Wilkinson a “master propagandist” and identified him as “the guy who deserved top billing for creating the myth of Jessica Lynch.”
Wilkinson, Krakauer also wrote, “duped reporters and editors at the Washington Post … and other media outlets into running wildly hyperbolic stories about Lynch.”
It remains unclear how Krakauer erred so badly in accusing Wilkinson. The author did not reply to an email sent to him yesterday and attempts this week to reach him through his publisher were unavailing.
“Unfortunately, he’s not talking questions at this time,” Russell Perreault, a spokesman for Random House, said by email. “He’s working on a new project.”
Krakauer’s most recent work, Three Cups of Deceit, seeks to puncture the humanitarian reputation of Greg Mortensen, whose charitable organization builds schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“The image of Mortensen that has been created for public consumption,” Krakauer wrote in Three Cups of Deceit, “is an artifact born of fantasy, audacity, and an apparently insatiable hunger for esteem. Mortensen has lied about the noble deeds he has done, the risks he has taken, the people he has met, the number of schools he has built.”
Recent and related:
- Seven years after ‘fighting to the death': Who was the Post’s source?
- Time for WaPo to disclose sources on bogus Lynch story
- Pentagon ‘caught creating false narrative’ about Lynch? How so?
- Jessica Lynch one of ‘Time’ magazine’s ‘faces of the decade’
- ‘A debunker’s work is never done’
- Ignoring the astonishing reporting lapses in Lynch case
- Recalling the hero of Nasiriyah: It wasn’t Jessica Lynch
- Challenge the dominant narrative? Who, us?
- Why they get it wrong
- ‘Getting It Wrong’ wins SPJ award for Research about Journalism