W. Joseph Campbell

Jessica Lynch one of ‘Time’ magazine’s ‘faces of decade’

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on November 26, 2010 at 6:42 am

I’ve expressed astonishment at Media Myth Alert from time to time about how the national spotlight still finds Jessica Lynch, who became the most familiar face of the early Iraq War because of a botched, front page story in the Washington Post about her supposed battlefield heroics.

Lynch, before the war

That was a sensational account, picked up by news organizations across the country and around the world. The Times of London, for example, declared that “one thing is certain”–Lynch “has won a place in history as a gritty, all-American hero.”

But the Post story  was utterly in error: Lynch, then a 19-year-old Army private, never fired a shot in Iraq. She was neither shot nor stabbed, as the Post reported, but suffered shattering injuries in the crash of a Humvee as it tried to escape an Iraqi ambush in Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003.

She was no battlefield hero.

Over time, however, the singular role of the Washington Post in propelling Lynch into unmerited fame has receded in favor of a false narrative that says the Pentagon concocted the hero-warrior story about Lynch to bolster Americans’ support for the war.

Time magazine repeated the false narrative  the other day in a writeup about Lynch, whom it calls one of the “faces of the decade”–a handful of men and women the magazine says “became famous overnight not for glamour or riches or simply being famous but for the explosive public issues they represented.”

Time says flatly that Lynch “was a victim of the propaganda machine at the Pentagon, which exaggerated her heroics.”

Whether Lynch merits inclusion in the “faces of the debate” is highly debatable. What’s not debatable is the magazine’s inaccurate characterization of Lynch’s improbable emergence to unsought fame.

As I discuss in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, the Pentagon was not the source for the botched report in the Post about Lynch’s supposed heroics in Iraq. The U.S. military was loath to discuss the sketchy reports from the battlefield that told of her heroic deeds.

I note in Getting It Wrong that Vernon Loeb, then the defense writer for the Post, went on an NPR program in late 2003 to say that he “could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about” the Lynch case.

“They wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch,” Loeb said in an interview on the Fresh Air show.

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

Loeb declared: “Our sources for that story were not Pentagon sources.”

Not surprisingly, the Time writeup doesn’t say how the Pentagon (if it had been the source) so thoroughly duped the Post into publishing the bogus report: No one pushing the false narrative about the Pentagon’s having ginned up the Lynch story addresses that critical element.

The Post–to its discredit–has never disclosed the source of its botched story, which appeared April 3, 2003, beneath the headline:

“‘She was fighting to the death.'”

The botched story

Lynch told Time that she doesn’t know how the phony report about her battlefield derring-do took hold. In excerpts of an interview posted at the Time online site, Lynch says:

“Honestly, I have no idea where the stories were created.”

The interview excerpts make no reference to the Post or its erroneous report. (Interestingly, a separate article in Time that ruminates about errors by journalists does mention the Post, saying: “Lynch’s Iraq heroics grew out of a single inaccurate story in the Washington Post.”)

Like many media-driven myths, though, the notion that the Pentagon pushed the phony hero-warrior story is just too good, too delicious, to be disbelieved.

And so it lives on, a blight on the historical record.


Recent and related:

  1. […] Jessica Lynch one of ‘Time’ magazine’s ‘faces of decade’ […]

  2. […] frequently noted at Media Myth Alert that the dominant narrative in the case of Jessica Lynch, the single most famous American soldier of the Iraq War, is that the Pentagon concocted a story […]

  3. […] Eight years ago today, the Washington Post published an electrifying, front-page report that thrust Lynch into international fame which has never fully receded. […]

  4. […] was the Washington Post that thrust the hero-warrior tale about Lynch into the public […]

  5. […] Lynch never fired a shot at Nasiriyah. Her rifle jammed during the ambush. She suffered shattering injuries when a rocket-propelled grenade struck her Humvee, causing the vehicle to crash. […]

  6. […] Lynch: The Washington Post’s erroneous reporting about Jessica Lynch early in the Iraq War gave rise to several myths about her capture and […]

  7. […] Jessica Lynch one of ‘Time’ magazine’s ‘faces of the decade’ […]

  8. […] Jessica Lynch one of ‘Time’ magazine’s ‘faces of the decade’ […]

  9. […] the Pentagon cynically concocted the tale of her battlefield derring-do in Iraq has accompanied Jessica Lynch to Idaho, where she is to deliver a speech today on the Fourth of […]

  10. […] is remarkable how often Jessica Lynch pops up in media reports, even though eight years have passed since the bogus story about her heroics in an ambush in Iraq […]

  11. […] Jessica Lynch one of ‘Time’ magazine’s ‘faces of the decade’ […]

  12. […] Jessica Lynch one of ‘Time’ magazine’s ‘faces of the decade’ […]

  13. […] 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. […]

  14. […] Jessica Lynch one of ‘Time’ magazine’s ‘faces of the decade’ […]

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

  16. […] Post’s report said Lynch, then a 19-year-old supply clerk in the Army’s 507th Maintenance Company, fired at attacking […]

  17. […] Jessica Lynch one of ‘Time’ magazine’s ‘faces of the decade’ […]

  18. […] 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 […]

  19. […] 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: […]

  20. […] Lynch, through no exceptional effort of her own, into the best-known U.S. enlisted soldier of the Iraq […]

  21. […] memorable article of the Iraq War, a mistaken report that made Jessica Lynch something of a celebrity and gave rise to persistent and misguided claims and suspicions that the U.S. military concocted […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: