W. Joseph Campbell

Washington Post ignores its singular role in Lynch hero-warrior story

In Cinematic treatments, Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on September 3, 2010 at 9:47 am

In its review today of the new movie about Pat Tillman, the Army Ranger killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, the Washington Post invokes the Jessica Lynch case–but disingenuously shifts blame to the Pentagon for thrusting the former Army private into unsought and undeserved fame early in the Iraq War.

In fact it was the Post that gave the world the erroneous story about Lynch and her supposed battlefield heroics in 2003. The hero-warrior tale about Lynch was an embarrassment that the Post still seems eager to sidestep.

The Post's report on Lynch, April 3, 2003

Not surprisingly, today’s review fails to mention the Post and its electrifying, but inaccurate, front-page report of April 3, 2003. The Post said Lynch had been shot and stabbed but yet “was fighting to the death” when captured by Iraqis.

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 after the war began.

Lynch never fired a shot during the attack; her gun had jammed, she later said. She was neither shot nor stabbed; she suffered shattering injuries in the crash of a Humvee as it tried to flee the ambush.

Lynch was taken prisoner and hospitalized. She was rescued by a U.S. special forces team on April 1, 2003.

Two days later, the Post published its sensational account of Lynch’s supposed heroism, an account “unlike any to emerge from the war,” I write in Getting It Wrong, my new book debunking 10 prominent media-driven myths.

I note that the Post’s story about Lynch “quickly became a classic illustration of intermedia agenda-setting: News organizations around the world followed the Post’s lead by prominently reporting the supposed heroics of young Jessica Lynch and contemplating their significance.”

It was “all quite remarkable, fascinating, and irresistible,” I write in Getting It Wrong. “The petite, shy clerk who, in the Post’s telling, had fought her attackers with Rambo-like ferocity. But little of it proved true.”

Private Lynch

There’s no hint of any of that in the Post‘s review of the Tillman movie. Instead, the review serves up the dubious interpretation that the Pentagon concocted the hero-warrior story about Lynch.

“In a surreal coincidence,” the review says, “Tillman’s first Army tour was in Iraq, where he helped provide perimeter support for the stage-managed rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch. Lynch later debunked the Pentagon’s account of her own actions before being captured by Iraqi forces, accusing the military of using her in their propaganda efforts.” (Emphasis added.)

The Pentagon treated the hero-warrior story as if it were radioactive. And Vernon Loeb, who shared a byline on the Post‘s report about Lynch, later said the military was not the source.

I point out in Getting It Wrong that in “a little-noted interview on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air interview program in late 2003, Loeb made it clear the Post’s sources were not Pentagon officials.”

Loeb, then the Post‘s defense correspondent, said on the radio program:

“Our sources for that story were not Pentagon sources.

“And, in fact, I could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about those reports [about Lynch’s battlefield heroics] at all. I got indications that they had, in fact, received those intelligence reports, but the Pentagon was completely unwilling to comment on those reports at all. They wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch.”

Loeb said in the interview that the Post had been “told by some really good intelligence sources here in Washington that, you know, there were indications that she had, you know, fired back and resisted her capture and actually been shot and possibly stabbed doing so.”

He added that the Post on April 3, 2003, “basically told our readers that day what the U.S. intelligence community was telling senior members of the U.S. government.”

Loeb dismissed at the interviewer’s suggestion that the Post‘s “fighting to the death” report was the upshot of clever manipulation by the Pentagon.

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

The Post‘s movie review today refers to Lynch’s rescue as having been “stage-managed.”

That notion, I write in Getting It Wrong, represents a spinoff, or subsidiary, myth of the Lynch case.

The BBC was among the first to claim the rescue was a put-up job, calling it one  of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived.”

The Pentagon dismissed the BBC’s claims as “void of all facts and absolutely ridiculous.”

Later, at the request of three Democratic members of Congress, the Defense Department’s inspector general investigated the BBC’s allegations and found them baseless.

In testimony to Congress in April 2007, Thomas F. Gimble, then the acting inspector general, said no evidence had been uncovered to support claims that Lynch’s rescue “was a staged media event.”

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

More than 30 witnesses were interviewed in the inspector general’s inquiry, including members of the special operations team that had rescued Lynch, Gimble stated in written testimony.

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



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