W. Joseph Campbell

Jessica Lynch: One of the ‘buzziest’?

In Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on December 8, 2009 at 12:17 pm

NBC’s Today show yesterday featured Jessica Lynch, perhaps the best-known American soldier of the Iraq War, as central figure of one of the decade’s  “buzziest” news stories.


That’s how the Lynch segment was introduced.

It was a brief report (see transcript here), in which Lynch talked about her life since she was catapaulted to sudden, unsought fame in the first days of the war in Iraq.  Lynch then was a private, a supply clerk in the Army’s 507th Maintenance Company.

On March 23, 2003, elements of the 507th were ambushed by Iraqi irregulars in the southern city of Nasiriyah.  Lynch was badly injured in the crash of her Humvee and was taken prisoner.

Nine days later, she was rescued from a hospital in Nasiriyah by a U.S. special operations unit.

The Washington Post's front page report about Jessica Lynch

Two days after that, the Washington Post published a sensational account on its front page, reporting that Lynch had “fought fiercely” in Nasiriyah and had “shot several enemy soldiers after Iraqi forces ambushed” her unit, “firing her weapon until she ran out of ammunition.”

The Post‘s report cited “U.S. officials” who otherwise were unidentified as saying that Lynch had “continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her in fighting March 23.” One official was quoted anonymously as saying:

“‘She was fighting to the death. She did not want to be taken alive.'”

It was a great story, one picked up by news outlets across the United States and around the world.

Only it wasn’t true.

The Post‘s report not only was grievously in error;  it became the launchpad for a tenacious media-driven myth, one that the Today show yesterday helped promote.

Meredith Vieira, the Today show personality who interviewed Lynch, described her as “a pawn of the military that was trying to sell, some said, a war to the American public.”

In reality, though, the U.S. military did little to promote the hero-warrior story about Lynch, who then was 19-years-old. The Lynch case is discussed in a chapter in my forthcoming book, Getting It Wrong .

One of the authors of the Post‘s erroneous report, Vernon Loeb, told an NPR radio program in late 2003 that “the Pentagon … wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch.”

Loeb also said: “I just didn’t see the Pentagon trying to create a hero where there was none.”

Even so, the notion that the military promoted a phony hero-warrior lives on, and has become a central element of the narrative about the Lynch case.

The hoopla over Jessica Lynch in the first days of the Iraq War had another, lasting effect: That of obscuring recognition of an Army sergeant named Donald Walters who did fight to the death at Nasiriyah.

Walters’ heroics were mistakenly attributed to Lynch, apparently because of faulty translation of Iraqi battlefield reports.

Sgt. Donald Walters

Walters stayed behind as the ambushed 507th tried to flee  Nasiriyah. He was captured when his ammunition ran out and was executed. His body was recovered the day Lynch was rescued from the hospital in Nasiriyah.

Walters’ actions, when they became known, attracted little more than passing interest from the American news media.

And not surprisingly, they were not mentioned yesterday on the Today show’s “buzziest” segment.

Nor did Today point out that the Lynch myth took hold because of over-the-top reporting in the Washington Post. The segment contained nary a word about that.



  1. […] Post on February 2, 2010 at 8:05 am It’s amazing how “hero” still attaches to Jessica Lynch, the blonde, waiflike Army private from West Virginia who, through no exceptional effort of her […]

  2. […] myths, Washington Post on March 14, 2010 at 6:41 pm My paper about the media myths surrounding the case of Jessica Lynch, the Army private whom the Washington Post lifted from obscurity early in the Iraq War, stirred a […]

  3. […] translation of Iraqi battlefield reports, Walters’ heroics initially were attributed to Lynch, then a 19-year-old supply clerk in the […]

  4. […] Was Fighting to the Death,’” the Post’s headline said of Lynch, then a 19-year-0ld supply clerk in the Army’s 507th Maintenance […]

  5. […] anniversary of the Washington Post’s botched report about the mythical battlefield heroics of Jessica Lynch. The date also marked the 150th anniversary of the first run of the legendary Pony Express–a […]

  6. […] myths on August 15, 2010 at 9:09 am It’s astonishing, and a bit dismaying, how readily the Jessica Lynch case is cited as an example as a hoax perpetuated by the Pentagon. And how readily the Washington […]

  7. […] a phony hero-warrior story about Lynch has become the dominant narrative–one repeated blithely and […]

  8. […] Lynch then was a 19-year-old Army private, a supply clerk with the 507th Maintenance Company. Elements of her unit were ambushed in Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq, on March 23, 2003, a few days into the war. […]

  9. […] of April 3, 2003, in an electrifying account that quoted “U.S. officials” as saying Lynch had been shot and stabbed but nonetheless “was fighting to the death” until she was subdued […]

  10. […] Lynch said on CNN’s HLN show that she could have embraced the storyline that said she fought like a female Rambo–and no one would have been the wiser if she had. No one “would have known,” she asserted. […]

  11. […] published April 3, 2003, the Post anonymously cited “U.S. officials” in saying that Lynch “fought fiercely” in the ambush of her unit in southern Iraq, that she had “shot several […]

  12. […] to the death,’” the Post anonymously cited “U.S. officials” in saying Lynch had “fought fiercely” in the ambush of her unit in Nasiriyah, that she had “shot several […]

  13. […] April 3, 2003, the Washington Post published its famously botched story about Lynch, saying the young woman had fought fiercely against Iraqis attackers before being wounded, […]

  14. […] newspaper also said Lynch was “stabbed when Iraqi forces closed in on her […]

  15. […] Iraq in 2003, fed it somehow to the Washington Post which spread the electrifying but bogus story around the world (see […]

  16. […] into the public domain. The ensuing worldwide sensation had the effect of making Lynch the single best-known American soldier of the […]

  17. […] Post said Lynch, then a 19-year-old Army private, had fought fiercely in the ambush of her unit, the 507th […]

  18. […] published April 3, 2003, that cited otherwise unidentified “U.S. officials” in saying Lynch had fought fiercely in the ambush of Army unit in Iraq, that she had kept firing at Iraqi attackers even as she suffered […]

  19. […] Lynch herself insists, she was no hero (although she has said she could have embraced the hero-warrior […]

  20. […] 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 […]

  21. […] Lynch herself insists, she was no hero (although she has said she could have embraced the Post’s […]

  22. […] Lynch herself insists, she was no hero (although she has said she could have embraced the Post’s […]

  23. […] a front-page article published April 3, 2003, the Post claimed that Lynch had “fought fiercely” in the ambush of her unit in Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq, that she had […]

  24. […] (Lynch has long insisted she was no hero — although she has said she could have embraced the bogus hero-warrior tale and no one would’ve been the wiser.) […]

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