In a logically confused commentary on her MSNBC program last night, Rachel Maddow wrongly accused the Pentagon of having “made up” the bogus account of Jessica Lynch’s battlefield heroics early in the Iraq War.
Maddow cited no source for her claim, offered as she revisited at some length the hero-warrior tale about Lynch, an Army supply clerk thrust into international fame on April 3, 2003, in an electrifying, front-page story in the Washington Post.
The Post article cited otherwise unidentified “U.S. officials” in declaring that Lynch, then a 19-year-old private, had fought fiercely in the ambush of her unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, in Nasiriyah in southern Iraq on March 23, 2003.
Vernon Loeb, one of the Post reporters on that story — which turned out to be wrong in almost every important detail — later made clear that the Pentagon had not been the newspaper’s source.
“Our sources for that story were not Pentagon sources.”
Loeb, then the Post’s defense correspondent, also said in the NPR interview that Pentagon officials “wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch.”
He further declared:
“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.”
And yet none of that vital context was known to, or acknowledged by, Maddow as she discussed the Lynch case last night.
Maddow did so in an odd, contorted, and ultimately unpersuasive attempt to locate parallels between Lynch — who was taken prisoner at Nasiriyah and was rescued 11 days later by U.S. special forces — and the controversial recent release of Bowe Bergdahl, an Army sergeant who apparently walked away from his post in Afghanistan and was held captive by the Taliban for five years.
According to a transcript of her program, Maddow recalled that Lynch and her unit “were supposed to take a detour around the city of Nasiriyah, but they didn’t. They took a wrong turn or more likely a few wrong turns. And they ended up right in the city center.
“They were supposed to go around the city and not go through it at all. They ended up wrong turn after wrong turn, right in the city center, undefended, in territory where the U.S. Army knew they were likely to be attacks or ambushes, and they just drove right into it.”
But the 507th Maintenance wasn’t exactly “undefended”; some of its soldiers put up terrific resistance. Among them was Sergeant Donald Walters, a cook who put down covering fire as his comrades tried to escape the ambush.
Maddow then raised questions about Lynch’s rescue (which took place two days before the Post’s hero-warrior story was published) that no one seriously poses:
“Should that rescue not have happened? Should Jessica Lynch have been left there? Seriously, is that what we think about these things now?
“Private First Class Jessica Lynch, star of the show of that rescue. If the heroics that the Pentagon made up about her didn’t really happen, and they didn’t, maybe the U.S. special forces who rescued her, maybe they shouldn’t have bothered. After all, maybe it was their own screw-up that got them ambushed and hurt and captured in the first place.
“Is that how we think about these things now?” Maddow asked. “Is that how we think now about that rescue in hindsight knowing what we know now?
“Because that kind of a case, that obscenity of a case that maybe some Americans might deserve to be left behind, that is new cause célèbre on the American right, right now, that the American prisoner of war, the last American prisoner of war, the last and only one still held from either the Iraq war or the Afghanistan war, the American prisoner of war, Bowe Bergdahl, he did not deserve to be freed — that the U.S. government working to free him, succeeding to free him, that was a shame somehow, because yes, sure, he was an American soldier, but he was a bad one,” Maddow said.
That’s to torture logic, and to raise strawman arguments in seeking equivalence in the cases of Lynch — who undeniably was a prisoner of war, if not a heroic one — and of Bergdahl. The circumstances are vastly different.
But what most interests Media Myth Alert is Maddow’s claim, offered casually and without reference to sources, “that the Pentagon made up” the tale of Lynch’s heroics.
“Far from promoting stories about Lynch, the military didn’t like the story.”
The false narrative about Lynch and the Pentagon represents continuing fallout not only from the Post’s bungled reporting in April 2003 but from the newspaper’s reluctance to identify the sources on whom Loeb and fellow reporter Susan Schmidt relied in preparing the hero-warrior story.
More from Media Myth Alert:
- London’s ‘Independent’ latest to invoke media myth about Pentagon and Jessica Lynch
- Time for WaPo to disclose sources on bogus Lynch story
- Seven years after ‘fighting to the death’: Who was the Post’s source in Lynch case?
- Jon Krakauer rolls back claims about WaPo ‘source’ in Jessica Lynch case
- Myth and error: Recalling the rescue of Private Lynch
- Lynch says she could’ve embraced Post’s phony hero story
- Too good to be disbelieved: The military, myth, and Jessica Lynch
- Pentagon ‘caught creating false narrative’ about Lynch? How so?
- Recalling the overlooked heroism of Sgt. Walters
- Where do they get this stuff?
- Chris Matthews invokes the ‘if I’ve lost Cronkite’ myth in NYT review
- More mythical claims for WaPo’s Watergate reporting
- ‘We’re trying to toughen you up’: Never happened with Obama and news media
- ‘Persuasive and entertaining’: WSJ reviews ‘Getting It Wrong’