W. Joseph Campbell

Posts Tagged ‘Jessica Lynch’

London’s ‘Independent’ latest to invoke media myth about Pentagon and Jessica Lynch

In Debunking, Error, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Newspapers, Washington Post on January 28, 2013 at 7:40 am

In the debate about women being permitted to join U.S. military combat units, it was inevitable the media myth would resurface about Jessica Lynch and her purported battlefield heroics in Iraq nearly 10 years ago.

The myth has it that the Pentagon concocted the tale about Lynch’s having fought fiercely in an ambush in Nasiriyah and fed the propaganda to a credulous U.S. news media.

Sure enough, Britain’s Independent newspaper stepped in that myth over the weekend, in an online report about women in the U.S. military.

The newspaper referred to Lynch as a name fresh “in America’s collective memory” and asserted that “initial reports from the Pentagon exaggerated her story as it waged a propaganda war, stating that she had fought back heroically against the enemy when in fact she had never fired her weapon.”

Lynch was an element of a Pentagon “propaganda war”?

Not so.Independent masthead

Not according to Vernon Loeb, the Washington Post reporter who helped thrust the hero-warrior tale about Lynch into the public domain in an electrifying but utterly inaccurate front-page story published April 3, 2003. Loeb has said the Pentagon wasn’t the source of the Post’s story about Lynch, which it pegged to otherwise anonymous “U.S. officials.”

Under the byline of Loeb and Susan Schmidt, the Post reported that Lynch, then  a 19-year-old Army private in a support unit, kept firing at attacking Iraqis “even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her in fighting” at Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003.

The Post quoted one anonymous official as saying that Lynch “‘was fighting to the death. She did not want to be taken alive.'”

The story turned out to be wrong in every significant detail: Lynch never fired a shot in the attack at Nasiriyah; her weapon jammed during the deadly ambush in which 11 American soldiers were killed.

Lynch was neither shot nor stabbed, as Loeb and Schmidt reported, but suffered shattering injuries to her back, legs, and arms in the crash of a Humvee in which she was attempting to flee.

She was taken prisoner and treated at an Iraqi hospital, from where she was rescued April 1, 2003, by a U.S. special forces team.

As Lynch herself insists, she was no hero (although she has said she could have embraced the Post’s hero-warrior tale and no one would’ve been the wiser).

The Post, though, has never identified the “U.S. officials” who led it so badly astray.

But we do know that the Pentagon wasn’t the source of the Post’s exaggerated hero-warrior tale: Loeb said so in an interview on Fresh Air, an NPR radio program, in mid-December 2003.

In the interview, Loeb declared flatly:

“Our sources for that story were not Pentagon sources.”

Loeb also said that he “could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about” the Lynch case.

“They wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch,” Loeb declared, adding:

“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.”

Although Loeb’s remarks have long been in the public domain, the Independent is the latest of many news organizations to have ignored or overlooked them, blithely offering instead the juicy but unsubstantiated claim that “the Pentagon exaggerated her story.”

Lynch_large photo

Private Lynch

The claim is a weak one, even without Loeb’s disclaimer. After all, in the early days of the Iraq War, the Pentagon had little reason to exploit the Lynch case as a way to boost popular support  for the conflict.

As I point out in my myth-busting book, Getting It Wrong:

“It may be little-recalled now, but the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was widely supported by the American public. Polling data from March and April 2003, the opening days and weeks of the war, show an overwhelming percentage of Americans supported the conflict and believed the war effort, overall, was going well.”

Among those public opinion polls was a Washington Post-ABC News survey conducted in late March and early April 2003 — when Lynch was much in the news. The poll found that eight of 10 Americans felt the war effort was going well, and 71 percent approved of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq situation.

WJC

Many thanks to Instapundit
Glenn Reynolds for linking to this post

More from Media Myth Alert:

Women at the front: Recalling Jessica Lynch in Iraq

In Error, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on January 26, 2013 at 1:06 pm
Lynch: Accidental celebrity

Jessica Lynch in 2003

Jessica Lynch, who unwittingly became the best-known Army private of the Iraq War, has added her support to the Obama administration’s plan to end restrictions on women in Army combat units.

Lynch, whose purported battlefield heroics in Iraq proved to be a wild exaggeration by the Washington Post, told a Virginia television station the other day:

“For years women have been fighting for our freedom. They’ve been put in those roles anyway. Whether they are designed for a front line mission, they’re being put in those kind of roles and paths anyway.”

Given what she went through in Iraq, you’d be excused for thinking Lynch would have other views about women at the front.

Her authorized biography, written by Rick Bragg and published in November 2003, presents a disturbing account of her lone exposure to combat.

That came by mistake in southern Iraq on March 23, 2003, when elements of her support unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, made a wrong turn and plunged into Nasiriyah, a city under Iraqi control.

The heavy vehicles and Humvees of the 507th came under withering fire. Lynch was in the backseat of a Humvee, driven by her friend Lori Piestewa; they were trying to escape the Iraqi assault.

The biography, I Am a Solider, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story, says this about the attack on her unit, and about what happened to her afterward:

“‘I just wanted it to be over,’ Jessi said. It had been about an hour since the battle began in the city of Nasiriyah, maybe a little longer.

“In fear and resignation, she could not look at it anymore.

“‘I lowered my head to my knees, and I closed my eyes.’

“Just ahead of them, Iraqi soldiers had used a truck to block the road. An American tractor-trailer rumbling just in front of Jessi and Lori’s Humvee came under heavy fire, and, swerving to miss the Iraqi truck, ran off the road just in front of them.

“In the mass of Iraqi fighters, one of them raised a rocket-propelled grenade launcher to his shoulder and sighted the speeding Humvee. He squeezed the trigger.

“Jessi, crouched in the back seat, her arms around her own shoulders, her forehead on her knees, did not feel the round that finally punctured Lori’s control and sent the Humvee bouncing off the road, straight at the five-ton tractor-trailer.

“The last thing she remembered was praying.

“‘Oh God help us.

“‘Oh God, get us out of here.

“‘Oh God, please.'”

The biography says Lynch blacked out in the crash:

“Jessi lost three hours.

“She lost them in the snapping bones, in the crash of the Humvee, in the torment her enemies inflicted on her after she was pulled from it. It all left marks on her, and it is those marks that fill in the blanks of what Jessi lived through on the morning of March 23, 2003.”

The biography (which Lynch has referred to as “my book”) says the Humvee crashed about 7 a.m. that day, “but Jessi and Lori were not taken to the hospital, a military hospital, until about 10 a.m. The hospital was only steps away — minutes away. Still, three hours passed.”

Lori Piestewa died of her wounds. Three other soldiers in the Humvee were killed in the crash or died shortly afterward.

Lynch, who was 19, suffered shattering injuries to her spine, right arm, right foot, and left leg below the knee.

“The records also show,” the biography says, “that she was the victim of anal sexual assault. The records do not tell whether her captors assaulted her almost lifeless, broken body after she was lifted from the wreckage, or if they assaulted her and then broke her bones into splinters until she was almost dead.”

(The allegation of sexual assault was disputed by an Iraqi doctor who treated Lynch at a hospital in Nasiriyah.)

Lynch was a supply clerk in the 507th and had entered the Army not expecting to see combat. The biography quotes Lynch as telling a friend, “‘Don’t worry. We won’t be anywhere near danger.'”

Lynch lingered near death at the Iraqi hospital before being rescued by U.S. special forces on April 1, 2003.

Two days later, the Washington Post published an electrifying but thoroughly botched front-page account that said Lynch had fought heroically at Nasiriyah and that despite being shot and stabbed, she fired at attacking Iraqis until she ran out of ammunition and was captured.

In fact, Lynch suffered neither gunshot nor stab wounds.

She never fired a shot at Nasiriyah: Her weapon had jammed.

As I discuss in my media-mythbusting book, Getting It Wrong, the Post  never fully explained how it erred so utterly in presenting the hero-warrior tale about Lynch. The newspaper cited otherwise anonymous “U.S. officials” in its account, which appeared beneath the headline, “‘She was fighting to the death.'”Lynch_headline_Post

The story was picked up by news organizations around the world and made Lynch — who never embraced the story — a household name in America.

The hero-warrior tale almost surely was a case of mistaken identify: The exploits the Post erroneously attributed to Lynch most likely were the deeds of Donald R. Walters, an unsung cook-sergeant in Lynch’s unit.

Walters was one of 11 U.S. soldiers killed in the battle of Nasiriyah.

WJC

More from Media Myth Alert:

Taking stock: Top mythbusting posts of 2012

In Anniversaries, Cronkite Moment, Debunking, Error, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, New York Times, New Yorker, Photographs, Television, Washington Post on December 30, 2012 at 6:25 am

Media Myth Alert reported in 2012 on the appearance of many prominent media-driven myths and errors. Here are the year’s five top writeups, followed by a roster of other mythbusting posts of note.

Calling out the New York Times on ‘napalm girl’ photo error (posted June 3): The 40th anniversary of the famous “napalm girl” photograph — one of the most memorable images of the Vietnam War — fell in early June.

NapalmGirl photo_AP

Nick Ut/Associated Press

In an obituary a few weeks before, the New York Times had referred to the photograph of terror-stricken Vietnamese children and claimed, erroneously, that it showed “the aftermath of one of the thousands of bombings in the countryside by American planes.”

That passage suggested U.S. forces were responsible for the aerial napalm attack that gave rise to the photograph, taken by Nick Ut of the Associated Press. I pointed this out in an email to the Times, noting that the bombing was a misdirected attack by the South Vietnamese Air Force, as news reports at the time had made clear.

The newspaper’s assistant obituary editor, Peter Keepnews, replied, and offered some baffling logic in doing so:

“You are correct that the bombing in question was conducted by the South Vietnamese Air Force. However, the obituary referred only to ‘American planes,’ and there does not seem to be any doubt that this plane was American –- a Douglas A-1 Skyraider, to be precise.”

As if the aircraft’s manufacturer was at all relevant in the attack.

Independent of my efforts, two former Associated Press journalists also called on the Times to correct its error about “American planes.”

The Times resisted doing so until late August, when it issued a sort-of correction that embraced Keepnews’ tortured reasoning and stated:

“While the planes that carried out that attack were ‘American planes’ in the sense that they were made in the United States, they were flown by the South Vietnamese Air Force, not by American forces.”

It was, I noted, a begrudging and less-than-forthright acknowledgement of error. It hardly was in keeping with the declaration by the newspaper’s then-executive editor, Bill Keller. He asserted in a column in 2011 that “when we get it wrong, we correct ourselves as quickly and forthrightly as possible.”

hagiographic treatment of the “Cronkite Moment” (posted May 31): Few media-driven myths are as tenacious and desperately held as the so-called “Cronkite Moment” of 1968, when CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite declared on air that the U.S. military was “mired in stalemate” in Vietnam.

Cronkite in Vietnam, 1968

Cronkite in Vietnam, 1968

For years, journalists have sought to attach great significance to Cronkite’s assessment, even though it was thoroughly unoriginal and was, as I discuss in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, of little demonstrable impact. Even Cronkite, until late in his life, pooh-poohed its importance.

But all that scarcely deterred Douglas Brinkley from presenting in a hefty biography about Cronkite a decidedly hagiographic — and misleading — interpretation of the “Cronkite Moment.”

Brinkley offered little persuasive evidence in asserting that the “aftershock” of Cronkite’s report about Vietnam, which aired February 27, 1968, “was seismic” and “signaled a major shift in the public’s view of the war.”

In discussing the supposed “seismic” effects of Cronkite’s assessment, Brinkley wrote:

“Even the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page said, ‘The whole Vietnam effort may be doomed.’”

But the Journal editorial that  said so was published four days before Cronkite’s broadcast. To cite the editorial as evidence of a “seismic” effect of the “Cronkite Moment” was certainly misleading.

What’s more, Cronkite’s characterization of stalemate in Vietnam hardly “signaled a major shift in the public’s view of the war.”  Public opinion polls indicated that the shift had begun several months earlier.

If anything, Cronkite followed rather than led public opinion on Vietnam.

Uneven availability of WaPo’s online content about Jessica Lynch (posted April 27): On April 4, 2003, the Washington Post published a front-page report about an Iraqi lawyer who helped set in motion the rescue from captivity of Jessica Lynch, a wounded, 19-year-old Army private.

That report ran to 1,500 words and is freely available at the Post’s online site.

The day before that article appeared, the Post published an electrifying but far more problematic story about Jessica Lynch — an account that claimed she had fought fiercely against Iraqi attackers and had suffered gunshot and stab wounds before running out of ammunition and being taken prisoner.

Lynch_headline_Post

That article was published on the Post’s front page beneath the headline:

“‘She was fighting to the death.'”

It was a stunning report that proved wrong in all important details: Lynch was neither shot nor stabbed; she did not fire a shot in the attack in Iraq. She was badly injured in the crash of her Humvee in attempting to flee.

But try finding the “fighting to the death” story at the Post’s online site.

Unlike the far less embarrassing report of April 4, 2003, the “fighting to the death” story is not freely available online. Clicking on the story’s URL opens what essentially is an empty link.

Also unavailable online are the scathing reviews of the hero-warrior tale published by the newspaper’s then-ombudsman in April and June 2003.

Such inconsistencies suggest a digital scrubbing of embarrassing content. I asked the newspaper’s incumbent ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, about this matter.

He took several weeks to reply, finally stating in an email in August that he had found “nothing nefarious about this.” He added that the Post since 2003 “has gone through several changes of content management systems,” by which articles are posted online.

He further noted that the “fighting to the death” story about Lynch and related content are available in the Post’s fee-based archive.

So why not make the “fighting to the death” story freely available? Why not remove the fee to access a singularly memorable article about the Iraq War, a mistaken report that made Jessica Lynch something of a celebrity and gave rise to misguided suspicions that the U.S. military concocted the hero-warrior tale and somehow fed it to the Post?

“Restoring the digital version of the article of April 3, 2003, would represent a contribution to the record about the case of Jessica Lynch, which the Post is solely responsible for having placed in the public domain,” I wrote in an email to Pexton in mid-August.

He has not replied.

Kennedy-Nixon debate myth lives on (posted September 30): The run-up to the televised presidential campaign debates in October prompted numerous references to the purported lesson of the first such encounter, between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon in late September 1960.

That lesson is about the presumptive power of the televised image: Supposedly, television viewers thought Kennedy won the first debate in 1960 while radio listeners felt Nixon got the better of it.

This notion of viewer-listener disagreement has become an enduring media myth, even though it was thoroughly dismantled 25 years ago by scholars David L. Vancil and Sue D. Pendell.

Dismantling, though, hasn’t destroyed the myth. The notion of viewer-listener disagreement remains hardy and irresistible.

For example, in the runup to the debates in October between President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, the founder of USA Today, Al Neuharth, wrote a column that recalled the first Kennedy-Nixon debate.

“Listeners,” Neuharth said, “generally gave Nixon the nod. But TV viewers strongly favored Kennedy.”

And the Chicago Tribune declared that “not everyone thought Kennedy had won the debate. Pollsters found that those who heard the radio broadcast thought Nixon won. … Television viewers experienced a different debate from radio listeners.”

Only one polling organization, Sindlinger & Company, had conducted a survey of any size that included a sub-sample of radio listeners. The Sindlinger survey, taken the day after the first Kennedy-Nixon debate, indicated that radio listeners felt Nixon prevailed, by a margin of 2-to-1.

But Vancil and Pendell, in their article in Central States Speech Journal in 1987, noted that the Sindlinger survey included more than 2,100 respondents, of whom just 282 had listened to the debate on radio.

They noted that “a subordinate group of 282 interviews is below the threshold normally required for a national sample.” Not only that, but only 178 of the 282 respondents “expressed an opinion on the debate winner,” Vancil and Pendell wrote.

Given the shortcomings of the unrepresentative Sindlinger sample, Nixon’s supposedly decisive margin among radio listeners dissolves as meaningless — and renders viewer-listener disagreement a media myth.

George Romney’s “brainwashing” — and Gene McCarthy’s retort (posted September 4): Mitt Romney’s ill-fated run for the presidency prompted reminders of his father’s failed presidential campaign in 1968 — a campaign done in by a memorably clumsy gaffe.

The gaffe, in turn, is said to have inspired one of the most devastating putdowns in American political history. But as my research has found, the context of the supposed putdown is unclear at best.

The gaffe was committed in late August 1967 by George Romney, then governor of Michigan and a presumptive leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968.

In an interview with a Detroit television reporter, Romney referred to his visit to South Vietnam in 1965 and said:

“You know, when I came back from Vietnam, I’d just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody could get. … Well, not only by the generals but by the diplomatic corps over there. They do a very thorough job.”

Romney’s claim that he had been duped into supporting America’s war effort in Vietnam suggested muddled thinking, gullibility, and an uncertain command of foreign policy. His abbreviated presidential campaign never recovered from the self-inflicted wound; he ended his  run for the presidency at the end of February 1968.

Sealing the gaffe’s unforgettable quality was the supposed witty putdown by Democratic Senator Eugene McCarthy. Rather than a “brainwashing,” McCarthy supposedly said, a “light rinse” would have sufficed for Romney.

So telling was McCarthy’s “light rinse” quip that it “essentially finished Romney.”

But when, or even whether, McCarthy made the “light rinse” comment is unclear.

A database search of leading U.S. newspapers — including the New York Times, the Washington PostChicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and Baltimore Sun — turned up no published reference to the “light rinse” quip in 1967 or 1968. Or for years afterward.

The first reference was in 1983, a column in the Baltimore Sun that did not say when, where, or to whom McCarthy uttered the remark.

It seems improbable that journalists in 1967 or 1968 would have failed to report a retort as delicious as McCarthy’s.

But that’s what An American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968, a hefty book published in 1969 would have us believe.

American Melodrama described McCarthy’s remark as off-handed and said the senator’s aides persuaded reporters to hush it up.

While intriguing, American Melodrama doesn’t say when McCarthy made the comment, where, or specifically to whom.

WJC

Many thanks to Instapundit
Glenn Reynolds for linking to this post

Other memorable posts of 2012:

HLN’s sneering swipe at the ‘now-infamous rescue of Jessica Lynch’

In Debunking, Error, Jessica Lynch, Media myths on September 16, 2012 at 10:45 am

The news channel HLN reached back nearly 10 years to take a sneering swipe the other day about the rescue of Jessica Lynch. It did so in a report about the four Americans slain in Libya last week in an attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi.

Among the victims was a security contractor and former Navy seal, Glen A. Doherty, who, HLN recalled, “was positioned as a sniper atop a nearby roof during the now-infamous rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch” in Iraq in 2003.

How’s that? The “now-infamous rescue” of Jessica Lynch?

As often is the case with such gratuitous swipes, HLN (formerly known as CNN’s Headline News) didn’t explain the supposed infamy of the rescue — which was the first since World War II in which an American prisoner of war was rescued from behind enemy lines.

HLN presumably was alluding to the discredited claims, offered most prominently by the BBC, that the rescue was stagecraft — a show of force utterly unnecessary to retrieve Lynch, an Army private whose maintenance unit was caught in an ambush in March 2003, in the early days of the Iraq War.

Lynch was near death when a U.S. special operations team rescued her on April 1, 2003, from a hospital in Nasiriyah. She had suffered severe injuries in the crash of a Humvee as it attempted to flee the ambush and had been taken prisoner.

The BBC claimed in a report in May 2003 that the rescue of Lynch was “one of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived” — an event shamelessly staged for propaganda purposes.

As I point out in my 2010 book, Getting It Wrong, “the BBC’s version ha[s] become an unshakeable, widely accepted element of the Lynch saga” — even though the Pentagon at the time dismissed the account as “void of all facts and absolutely ridiculous.”

And one has to look no further than the HLN’s sneering, passing reference to Doherty’s assignment in the Lynch case to recognize how thoroughly the fraudulent-rescue narrative has hardened into blithe acceptance.

In truth, the rescue of Jessica Lynch was no contrivance.

In 2007, the Defense Department’s acting inspector general, Thomas Gimble, reported to a House of Representatives oversight committee that no evidence had been uncovered to support the notion the rescue “was a staged media event.”

Instead, Gimble said, the rescue operation was found to have been “a valid mission” to recover an American prisoner of war “under combat conditions.”

More than 30 witnesses were interviewed in the inspector general’s inquiry, including members of the Special Operations rescue team, Gimble said in written testimony.

Few if any of those witnesses had been interviewed by news organizations, he noted.

In undertaking the Lynch rescue, Gimble said, the U.S. special forces team “fully expected to meet stiff resistance” and had come under enemy fire from the hospital building and areas nearby.

The special operations unit, comprised of Army Rangers and Navy Seals, extricated Lynch within minutes, and without injury.

As I noted in Getting It Wrong, Gimble’s report was “an unequivocal rebuke to the BBC’s account.” But by then the time Gimble appeared before the House oversight committee, nearly four years had passed and the BBC’s version had become solidified and widely embraced.

What’s more, I noted, Gimble’s report “did not fit what had become the dominant narrative about the rescue.

“It made little news.”

WJC

Recent and related:

10 weeks on: Still no word from WaPo about apparent digital scrubbing of Lynch articles

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on July 6, 2012 at 7:45 am

Where’s the digital version?

The Washington Post ombudsman noted in a column last month that it is “increasingly difficult for iconoclastic, questioning voices to be heard, whether left, right or center.”

The ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, urged the Post and other news organizations “to seek out and cover the unconventional and outsider voices — whether citizen or expert, whether right, center or left. They’re out there; we just have to listen.”

Trouble is, Pexton, himself, doesn’t always much care for “questioning voices” — such as the questions that I’ve raised with him periodically for the past 10 weeks.

Those questions relate to the apparent digital scrubbing of the Post’s botched reporting about Jessica Lynch and her purported heroics early in the Iraq War.

The Post on April 3, 2003, published a stunning report on its front page (see above) about the supposed heroism of Lynch, a 19-year-old Army supply clerk, during an ambush at Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.

The Post’s report said Lynch had fought fiercely and “continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her” in the fighting, which took place March 23, 2003.

The electrifying report — which the Post headlined “She was fighting to the death” — was picked up by news organizations around the world.

But soon it became apparent that the Post’s hero-warrior story was utterly wrong in all important details. Lynch never fired a shot in Iraq; she was neither shot nor stabbed, as the Post had reported, but badly injured in the crash of a Humvee as it fled the ambush.

The botched hero-warrior story is unavailable at the Post’s online site. Until a few weeks ago, clicking on a link to that report did turn up the story’s headline, byline, and publication detail. But otherwise, it was an empty link: It contained no content.

Now, not even the headline, byline, and publication date are available. The link opens to a page that declares in large headlines: “Page Not Found” and “We’re unable to locate the page you requested.”

So changes recently have been made that expunge any reference to the hero-warrior story.

I pointed this out in an email to Pexton a week ago. He has not replied.

In his most recent correspondence with me, an email sent May 30, Pexton wrote:

“This is a stickier problem than I initially thought. It could be as innocent as the Post has moved masses amount of files three times in the past ten years to different servers. Or it could be deliberate.  …  I have one newsroom employee researching this and an IT person checking on it. When I have an answer, I’ll let you know.”

Pexton turned prickly in that email, making clear he did not appreciate my turning to social media to call attention to this matter.

He expressed objections to the Twitter message I sent on May 25, calling attention to a blog post of the same day that four weeks had passed and the Post had offered no explanation for the apparent scrubbing of the Lynch  content.

“Tweeting about your frustration over the time it is taking is a disincentive for me to push harder on it,” Pexton wrote in his email of May 30. “Most readers are polite and understanding. Why should I put your request ahead of others when you choose to coerce and bully?”

Coerce and bully? C’mon. My inquiries about the Lynch stories are much more akin to the “questioning voices” that Pexton has encouraged the Post to seek out and embrace.

More than five weeks have since passed he sent that prickly email. Pexton has offered no explanation as to why the Lynch content has been excised from the Post’s online site.

“I will get an answer for you if it is obtainable and I will let you know when I do,” he wrote on May 30. “That’s the best I can do. If that’s not to your liking, then I apologize but that is your issue, not mine.”

Woah. It’s not important to him whether the Post has scrubbed digital reminders of an acutely embarrassing story?

The Post, after all, called out Vanity Fair in April for digitally scrubbing a flattering profile of the wife of  Bashar al-Asad, Syria’s dictator. At that time, the Post described Vogue’s removal of the digital version of the profile as “an almost-unheard-of step for a mainstream media organization.”

Interestingly, some Lynch-related content from 2003 remains freely available online — notably this article, at the Post’s link-rich Iraq War archive.

I’ve asked Pexton: Would the Post and its readers not be better served by being consistent about its Lynch-related content?

And I have suggested to him that “my request can be distilled thusly:

“Why is some Lynch-related content from 2003 freely available online (see here), while content more embarrassing to the Post (see empty links here, here, and here) not available? Shouldn’t those empty links be restored, and added to the Post’s link-rich Iraq War archive, where Lynch’s name and image already appear?”

He has given no direct responses to those questions.

So what’s to be concluded, 10 weeks after my initial inquiry to Pexton?

Not unlike Vanity Fair, the Post appears to have scrubbed the digital reminders of an embarrassing misstep, of a high-profile story that the newspaper got utterly wrong.

It’s also pretty clear the Post has no interest in making freely available online its botched reporting about Jessica Lynch.

It’s pretty clear, too, that Pexton doesn’t eagerly follow through on his rhetoric about the value and importance of “iconoclastic, questioning voices.”

WJC

Many thanks to Instapundit
Glenn Reynolds for linking to this post.

Recent or related:

Misremembering the Jessica Lynch case, on Memorial Day

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths on May 28, 2012 at 5:11 pm

It’s astonishing how engrained the false narrative has become that the Pentagon made up the hero-warrior tale about Army private Jessica Lynch in the early days of the Iraq War.

It is often invoked — and typically without any reference to specific sources.

(Newseum image)

Take, for example, the top-of-the-front-page article today in today’s The State newspaper in South Carolina, which refers to unspecified “critics” who “charge that the Pentagon exaggerated her wounds by saying she was shot and stabbed when she wasn’t.”

As I’ve noted many times at Media Myth Alert, the Pentagon wasn’t the source for the bogus tale about Lynch’s heroics in an ambush at Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.

It was the Washington Post that thrust the story into the public domain in a dramatic account published on its front page on April 3, 2003.

The Post’s report said Lynch, then a 19-year-old supply clerk in the Army’s 507th Maintenance Company, fired at attacking Iraqis “even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her in fighting” on March 23, 2003.

The story, which was picked up by news organizations around the world, was embarrassingly wrong in all important details. Lynch, it quickly turned out, was neither shot nor stabbed, as the Post had reported. She did not fire a shot in the ambush. She suffered severe injuries in the crash of a Humvee as it tried to flee the ambush.

Lynch was taken prisoner and treated at an Iraqi hospital, from where she was rescued April 1, 2003, by a U.S. special operations team.

As Lynch herself insists, she was no hero (although she has said she could have embraced the Post’s hero-warrior tale and no one would’ve been the wiser).

We know the Pentagon wasn’t the source of the Post’s exaggerated tale: Vernon Loeb, one of the reporters who wrote the story, said so in an interview on Fresh Air, an NPR radio program, in mid-December 2003.

In the interview, Loeb said flatly:

“Our sources for that story were not Pentagon sources.”

Loeb also said that he “could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about” the Lynch case.

“They wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch,” Loeb declared, adding:

“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.”

Loeb said the details about Lynch’s supposed heroics came from “some really good intelligence sources” in Washington, D.C. — sources whom the Post has never specifically identified, although it should.

The State’s article is pegged to Memorial Day and recalls the death at Nasiriyah of Sgt. George Buggs. He was the first serviceman from South Carolina killed in Iraq.

The article notes that “Buggs’ death is now forgotten by most except family and friends. … But his story is both intertwined and overshadowed by one of the most tragic and controversial events in modern U.S. military history — the capture and rescue of a young soldier from West Virginia named Jessica Lynch.”

The article invokes those nameless “critics” in saying they “charged that the United States government exaggerated the facts of the rescue, manipulated the media and exploited Lynch to build public support for a war many thought was unnecessary.”

Such claims are erroneous in at least two important respects.

One, the Defense Department’s acting inspector general reported finding no evidence to support the notion that Lynch’s rescue “was a staged media event.” Rather, the inspector general’s report said the rescue operation was “a valid mission” to recover a prisoner of war “under combat conditions.” It further stated that the “level of force used by [the special forces team] to perform the mission was consistent with the anticipated resistance and established doctrine.”

Two, the U.S. government had little reason to exploit the Lynch case as a means “to build public support”  for the Iraq War. As I point out in my 2010 book, Getting It Wrong:

“It may be little-recalled now, but the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was widely supported by the American public. Polling data from March and April 2003, the opening days and weeks of the war, show an overwhelming percentage of Americans supported the conflict and believed the war effort, overall, was going well.”

Among those public opinion polls was a Washington Post-ABC News survey conducted in late March and early April 2003. The poll found that eight of ten Americans felt the war effort was going well, and 71 percent approved of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq situation.

I further note in Getting It Wrong:

“At the time of the Lynch rescue, U.S. forces were closing in on Baghdad. So it defies logic to argue that the American military would have singled out and hyped the Lynch rescue for morale-building purposes when its central and vastly more important wartime objective was within reach.”

WJC

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Four weeks on: No answer from WaPo about empty links to Jessica Lynch stories

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Newspapers, Washington Post on May 25, 2012 at 6:55 am

Lynch photo at WaPo’s Iraq archive

Want to read the Washington Post article of April 10, 2003, about the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces? The article’s online link is here.

How about the Post’s report about the Iraqi lawyer who helped lead U.S. rescuers to Jessica Lynch, the Army private taken prisoner and hospitalized following a deadly ambush in the war’s early days? Here’s the link to that story,  which the Post published on its front page April 4, 2003.

How about the Post’s front-page article of the day before, which told of Lynch’s supposed heroism in the ambush, how she had fought fiercely and “continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her”?

It was an electrifying report, one picked up by news organizations around the world.

But it turned out that the Post’s hero-warrior tale about Lynch was embarrassingly wrong in all important details. Lynch never fired a shot in Iraq; she was neither shot nor stabbed, as the Post had reported, but badly injured in the crash of a Humvee as it fled the ambush.

Try finding the botched hero-warrior story at the Post’s online site. All that turns up is a headline, byline, and date of publication. Otherwise, it’s an empty link. No content, in other words.

That’s also true for a column published April 20, 2003, by Michael Getler, the newspaper’s then-ombudsman, who criticized the hero-warrior story: Another empty, no-content link.

Same for the Post’s partial rollback of the hero-warrior story, published in mid-June 2003: Also an empty link.

So what gives? Why is some of the Post’s content about the Iraq War — and Jessica Lynch — freely available online while the more embarrassing material shows up as empty links?

Is this a matter of digital scrubbing, akin to Vogue magazine’s excising of a flattering profile of the wife of the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Asad? The Post last month described the Vogue matter as “an almost-unheard-of step for a mainstream media organization.”

Periodically over the past four weeks, I’ve asked the Post’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, about the digitally unavailable versions of the newspaper’s reports about Lynch.

Pexton has  promised to look into my questions.

But four weeks on, he has yet to offer a substantive reply.

I have asked him: “Does the embarrassment quotient explain this apparent inconsistency?” That is, is the Post too embarrassed by its botched reporting about Lynch to make the links freely available online?

I suspect it is.

In his most recent email to me, on May 16, Pexton said he receives “200 to 300 e-mails per day and we’re always behind. We are working on trying to get you some answers on this.”

I replied the following day, thanking him for the update and saying I hoped to hear from him soon.

I also wrote:

“I believe my request can be distilled thusly:

“Why is some Lynch-related content from 2003 freely available online (see here), while content more embarrassing to the Post (see empty links here, here, and here) not available? Shouldn’t those empty links be restored, and added to the Post’s link-rich Iraq War archive, where Lynch’s name and image already appear?”

That email produced no response from Pexton, however.

The Post‘s digital archive of the Iraq War offers a functioning link to the article about the Iraqi lawyer who helped guide rescuers to Lynch.

In fact, the only U.S. soldier identified by name and image at the archive is Jessica Lynch.

I discuss the Post’s reporting of the Lynch case in a chapter in my latest book, Getting It Wrong.

WJC

Many thanks for Instapundit
Glenn Reynolds for linking to this post

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Two weeks on: Still waiting for WaPo on missing Jessica Lynch online content

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Newspapers, Washington Post on May 11, 2012 at 9:41 am

Lynch photo at WaPo’s Iraq archive

Two weeks ago, the Washington Post ombudsman promised to look into questions I had posed about the unavailable digital versions of the newspaper’s embarrassingly wrong reports about Jessica Lynch’s supposed heroics during the Iraq War.

I’m still waiting a response from the ombudsman, Patrick Pexton.

At issue are empty links for at least three articles and commentaries about Lynch that appeared in the Post in 2003 — all of which are keenly embarrassing to the newspaper. Among them is the Post’s infamous “Fighting to the Death” story of April 3, 2003, which is at the heart of the bogus hero-warrior tale about Lynch.

That story — which isn’t available at the Post’s online site — described Lynch’s purported derring-do on the battlefield, saying she fought fiercely in an ambush in Nasiriyah and was captured only after running out of ammunition.

As it turned out, the story was utterly wrong in all important details. Lynch never fired a shot in Iraq; she was neither shot nor stabbed, as the Post had reported, but badly injured in the crash of a Humvee as it fled the ambush. (I discuss the Post’s handling of the Lynch case in a chapter in my latest book, Getting It Wrong.)

Another element of the Post’s narrative about Lynch that’s missing online is a column written several days later by Michael Getler, then the newspaper’s ombudsman. Getler criticized the hero-warrior story, noting that readers thought it suspicious.

In mid-June 2003, the Post grudgingly walked back from aspects of its hero-warrior tale — an embarrassment that media critic Christopher Hansen characterized as “the journalistic equivalent of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.”

The Post’s walk-back article also is unavailable online.

But at least one of the Post’s  stories about Lynch in 2003 is freely available online, as I’ve noted in email messages to Pexton.

That article — which is decidedly non-embarrassing to the Post — was published April 4, 2003; there’s a functioning link to it at the newspaper’s link-rich digital archive about the Iraq War. Interestingly, the only U.S. soldier identified by name and image at the archive site is Jessica Lynch.

So why aren’t the Post’s other reports about Lynch available at that online archive? If some Lynch-related content from 2003 is freely available, why not the rest? Wouldn’t restoring all Lynch content make the digital archive richer, more comprehensive, and more balanced?

I believe it would.

I’ve asked Pexton: “Does the embarrassment quotient explain this apparent inconsistency?” In other words, is the Post too embarrassed by its botched reporting about Lynch to make the links freely available online?

I suspect so.

Pexton did say in an email 14 days ago that his looking into my questions “will take some considerable time to research, but I’ll check into it. It’s very hard to trace some of this back when The Post has gone through several computer systems since that time, but I’ll make an effort.”

In reply, I suggested that the matter could be readily distilled by focusing on this question:

“Why is some Lynch-related content from 2003 freely available online (see here), while other and more embarrassing content (see empty links here, here, and here) not available?”

I sent Pexton follow-up email messages on May 1 and May 7. In those email, I asked why the empty links about the Lynch case couldn’t be restored and added to the digital archive about the Iraq War.

I have received no reply.

And that’s a bit odd because Pexton, in a column in March, pointedly urged Post staffers to be responsive to inquiries, writing:

“Return the blessed phone calls and e-mails from readers! And do it with courtesy, respect and politeness, even when the caller, or writer, is persistent or even unpleasant. Please.”

That’s advice too good to be ignored.

WJC

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Digitally scrubbing WaPo’s embarrassment on Jessica Lynch?

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on April 27, 2012 at 2:15 pm

The Washington Post carried a fine story yesterday about Vogue magazine’s apparent removal from its online site of an unaccountably flattering profile of Asma al-Assad, wife of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Where's the digital version?

The Post said the 3,200-word puff piece in Vogue “apparently proved so embarrassing to the magazine that it scrubbed it from its Web site, an almost-unheard-of step for a mainstream media organization and a generally acknowledged violation of digital etiquette.”

That observation — “violation of digital etiquette” — evoked for me the unavailability online of the Post’s embarrassingly wrong-headed reports in 2003 about Jessica Lynch and her supposed heroism early in the Iraq War.

In an electrifying account published on its front page April 3, 2003, the Post reported that Lynch, then a 19-year-old Army private, had fought fiercely in the ambush of her unit in Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq.

Lynch, according to the Post,  “continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her in the fighting,” which took place March 23, 2003.

The hero-warrior tale about Lynch turned out to be utterly wrong in all crucial details. She was neither shot nor stabbed, as the Post reported; she suffered shattering injuries in the crash of a Humvee fleeing the ambush.

Lynch was taken prisoner and moved to an Iraqi hospital where she lingered near death until her rescue by U.S. special forces on April 1, 2003.

The Post’s hero-warrior tale appeared two days later.

But try finding the Post’s digitized version of that story. Here’s the link; but clicking through turns up the article’s headline, byline, date of publication, and page placement. But no text.

(The Post’s story is available in full at the online site of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)

Later in April 2003, the Post’s then-ombudsman, Michael Getler, published a critical column about the hero-warrior story, noting that “several readers wrote to complain, saying they did not doubt ‘the gravity of Lynch’s situation,’ as one put it, but that The Post, ‘using unnamed sources,’ was ‘creating a sensationalist story riddled with inaccuracies.’ ‘I smell an agenda,’ said one reader, suspecting wartime ‘propaganda.’ Another was suspicious of the ‘Hollywood-like telling of the story.'”

Try finding Getler’s column online.

Here’s the link; but in this case, too, just the headline, byline, publication date, and page reference are available.

In mid-June 2003, the Post revisited and grudgingly walked back from aspects of its hero-warrior story about Lynch. One media critic characterized the article as “the journalistic equivalent of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.”

(And as I point out in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, the walk-back story “included a nervy attempt by the Post to deflect blame from its central role in spreading the hero-warrior myth of Jessica Lynch.”

(The Post, I note, “faulted the U.S. military and the administration of President George Bush for failing to correct an error for which the Post was responsible. ‘Neither the Pentagon nor the White House publicly dispelled the more romanticized initial version of her capture,’ the Post said, ‘helping to foster the myth surrounding Lynch and fuel accusations that the Bush administration stage-managed parts of Lynch’s story.’  It was an astounding assertion: The Post, alone, was responsible for propagating the ‘romanticized initial version’ that created the hero-warrior myth. To claim the Pentagon and the White House should have done more to dispel that report was, in short, exceedingly brazen.”)

Well, good luck in finding the Post’s walk-back story online.

Here’s the link; but, again, only the headline, byline, publication date, and page reference show up.

So has the Post excised the digital reminders of an embarrassing misstep, of a dramatic story that it thoroughly and singularly botched? Has it, at a minimum, committed a “violation of digital etiquette”?

Rather looks like it. (The Post’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, promised to “check into” my questions. He also said in an email today: “It’s very hard to trace some of this back when The Post has gone through several computer systems since that time, but I’ll make an effort.”)

Separately, I’ve been told that Post stories published before 2005 have largely been placed behind a paywall. For the most part, that is, they’re not freely available online.

But some special sections are accessible online without payment — and they include the Post’s link-rich “War in Iraq” digital archive.

And in a box at the lower right corner of the digital archive is an Army photograph of none other than Jessica Lynch.

Lynch photo at WaPo's Iraq War archive

The box carries the headline, “Saving Pfc Lynch,” and offers a link to an article published in the Post April 4, 2003, a day after the botched hero-warrior tale.

The April 4 article ran to 1,500 words in discussing the Iraqi lawyer who helped set in motion Lynch’s rescue.

And that article is available in full.

WJC

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Why WaPo should reveal sources on bogus Jessica Lynch tale

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on April 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Today is the ninth anniversary of the Washington Post‘s stunningly wrong hero-warrior tale about Jessica Lynch, a botched report published on its front page beneath the headline:

She was fighting to the death

Lynch, then a 19-year-old Army supply clerk, had fought fiercely in the attack of her unit in Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq, according to the Post, which cited anonymous “U.S. officials” as its sources.

One of them told the Post that Lynch had suffered gunshot and stab wounds “and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her” in the ambush March 23, 2003.

It was electrifying stuff and the Post’s report was picked up by news organizations around the world.

But it was wrong in all important details. Lynch was neither shot nor stabbed. She did not fire a shot in the ambush. She suffered crushing injuries in the crash of a Humvee as it attempted to flee the ambush.

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.

As Lynch herself insists, she was no hero (although she has said she could have embraced the hero-warrior tale and no one would’ve been the wiser).

Nine years on, it’s time for the Post to disclose just who it was that led it astray. It’s time to reveal the sources on the bogus story about Lynch.

It may be akin to sacrilege to argue that a newspaper should lift the veil of anonymity. But reasons  for making something of an exception in the Lynch case are several and compelling.

For one, news organizations owe little to anonymous sources that provide bad information. The grant of confidentiality isn’t meant to be a vehicle for diffusing falsehood.

In this case, the embarrassment quotient remains high enough for the Post to identify its Lynch sources — if not by name, then by affiliation.

Another compelling reason to lift the veil of anonymity is that the veil has been partly lifted already. One of the reporters on the botched story, Vernon Loeb, is on record as saying who the sources were not.

So it should be a small step to saying who they were.

Loeb, in an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air” program in December 2003, stated unequivocally:

“Our sources for that story were not Pentagon sources.”

He also said he “could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about” the Lynch case.

“They wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch,” Loeb said, adding:

“I just didn’t see the Pentagon trying to create a hero where there was none,” he added. “I mean …they never showed any interest in doing that, to me.”

Loeb also described them as “some really good intelligence sources” in Washington.

Despite Loeb’s insistence that the sources weren’t Pentagon sources, the narrative has taken hold that the military made up the story about Lynch’s heroics and somehow persuaded the Post  to buy it.

Indeed, this has become the dominant narrative of the Lynch case, as I point out in my latest book, Getting It Wrong.

By identifying its sources on the Lynch story, the Post could demolish the military-made-it-up narrative and, by doing so, strike a blow for accuracy and truth-telling.

There’s another compelling reason for the Post to lift anonymity in this case: The newspaper’s long silence on its sourcing has allowed twisted and erroneous claims to circulate as factual.

Notable in this regard are the claims Jon Krakauer made in his 2009 book Where Men Win Glory about Jim Wilkinson, an aide to the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq in 2003, General Tommy Franks.

Krakauer wrote that Wilkinson “duped reporters and editors at the Washington Post” by giving them exclusive access to the bogus tale about Lynch’s battlefield heroics.

Krakauer in the book also called Wilkinson a “master propagandist” and said he was “the guy who deserved top billing for creating the myth of Jessica Lynch.”

Wilkinson denied Krakauer’s allegations and met with the author to discuss a retraction.

Krakauer quietly retreated from his unattributed charges about Wilkinson, removing the unflattering passages from a recent paperback edition of Where Men Win Glory. That edition also 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.”

Had the Post been transparent about the sourcing on its Lynch story,  Krakauer’s unsubstantiated allegations likely never would have been raised.

WJC

Many thanks to Instapundit
Glenn Reynolds for linking to this post.

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