W. Joseph Campbell

Lynch and mythical ‘Pentagon propaganda machine’

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on December 7, 2010 at 6:36 pm

I’ve 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 about her battlefield heroics in order to boost popular support for the conflict.

The Post's botched report

It is, however, a false narrative that utterly obscures the singular role of the Washington Post in thrusting the bogus hero-warrior story about Lynch into the public domain.

But the false narrative lives on. It’s a tenacious media-driven myth–one of 10 that I address and debunk in my latest book, Getting It Wrong. The false narrative popped up in a Michigan newspaper the other day, in a commentary that took a look back at the first decade of the 21st century.

The retrospective appeared in the Niles Daily Star and the author in writing about the Lynch case said “insult [was] added to her injuries by the Pentagon propaganda machine [by] exaggerating her heroics” in Iraq.

The reference was to Lynch’s supposed derring-do in an ambush in Nasiriyah, in the first days of the war.

Lynch then was a 19-year-old private, a supply clerk in the 507th Maintenance Company, elements of which were attacked March 23, 2003.

The Post reported 11 days later that Lynch had fought ferociously in the ambush, despite watching “several other soldiers in her unit die around her.”

Lynch was shot and stabbed, the Post said, but kept firing at the attacking Iraqis until she ran out of ammunition, and was taken prisoner.

The Post quoted a source identified only as a “U.S. official” as saying:

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

It was an electrifying, front-page account which, as I note in Getting It Wrong, was picked up by news organizations 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 Lynch was no hero.

She never fired a shot in Iraq. It turned out that her gun had jammed during the ambush.

She was neither shot nor stabbed. She did suffer shattering injuries in the crash of Humvee while trying to flee the ambush.

Rescuing Jessica Lynch

Lynch was hospitalized in Nasiriyah for nine days, until rescued by a commando team of U.S. special forces. The sensational article about her heroics appeared two days later, on April 3, 2003; it was a Post exclusive.

Ten weeks later, as Lynch slowly recovered from her injuries, the Post begrudgingly acknowledged that key elements of its hero-warrior story were wrong. (One critic said the embarrassing rollback was “the journalistic equivalent of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.”)

But over time, as American public opinion curdled and turned against the Iraq War, the role of the Post in propelling Lynch into unwarranted fame receded in favor of the false narrative that the Pentagon made up the hero-warrior tale.

However, as I discuss in Getting It Wrong, the Pentagon was not the source for the botched report in the Post about Lynch’s supposed heroics. The U.S. military was loath to discuss the sketchy reports from the battlefield that told of her derring-do.

I note in Getting It Wrong that Vernon Loeb, then the defense writer for the Post, went on the NPR program Fresh Air 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 on the radio show.

“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 declared:

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

Not surprisingly, news outlets that embrace the false narrative about the Pentagon and Jessica Lynch never explain how it worked–how the Post was so thoroughly duped into publishing the bogus report. No one ever addresses how the “Pentagon propaganda machine” accomplished its purported task.

And the Post, to its lasting discredit, has never disclosed the sources of its botched story about Lynch.


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