W. Joseph Campbell

WaPo eludes responsibility in bogus hero-warrior tale about Lynch

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on July 6, 2011 at 9:17 am

The Washington Post has the exclusive though obviously unwanted distinction of having brought the world the bogus story about Jessica Lynch and her battlefield heroics during the early days of the Iraq War.

Private Lynch, 2003

But in what has been a remarkable case of deflected attention, the Post’s singular role in the botched hero-warrior tale about Lynch has been obscured in favor of a darker, more sinister narrative that the Pentagon concocted the story and fed it to the American public.

That version — the military made it up — has become the dominant narrative of the Lynch case and is predictably invoked whenever Lynch attracts the news media’s attention, as she did on the Fourth of July.

She was in Idaho then to give a talk at a Presbyterian camp. Her appearance drew local news coverage, including a report published yesterday in the Spokesman-Review newspaper of Spokane.

The Spokesman-Review account blithely repeated the dominant narrative about Lynch’s supposedly heroic deeds, stating without attribution:

“The military initially portrayed Lynch as a hero, saying she fought back until she ran out of ammunition.”

Which just isn’t so.

As Vernon Loeb, one of the Post reporters on the botched Lynch story has made clear, the Pentagon wasn’t the source of the hero-warrior tale.

“Far from promoting stories about Lynch,” Loeb has said, “the military didn’t like the story.”

The dominant narrative is a false narrative.

Loeb then was the Post’s defense correspondent. He shared a byline with Susan Schmidt on the sensational story about Lynch, which was published April 3, 2003, on the Post’s front page.

The Schmidt-Loeb report carried the headline:

“‘She was fighting to the death.'”

The story described how Lynch, then 19, supposedly had fought with Rambo-like ferocity in an ambush at Nasiriyah in southern Iraq, “even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her.”

Lynch, a supply clerk in the Army’s 507th Maintenance Division, also was stabbed before being overwhelmed, according to the Post.

The newspaper cited otherwise unidentified “U.S. officials” for its sensational story, which was picked up and reported prominently by news organizations around the world.

The hero-warrior tale turned Lynch into the war’s best-known American soldier. But it wasn’t true.

Lynch hadn’t fired a shot in the ambush.

She was badly injured not from gunshots and stabbings, but in a Humvee that crashed fleeing the Iraqi attack.

In the years since, the Post  has not objected as the dominant narrative about the origins of the Lynch story has shifted to the Pentagon. The newspaper has said little, if anything, about the now-routine inclination to blame the military for the bogus tale.

Indeed, the newspaper has “never fully acknowledged or explained its extraordinary error about Jessica Lynch,” as I write in my latest book, Getting It Wrong.

It is certainly time for the Post to identify the “U.S. officials” who led it so badly astray on the Lynch story; doing so would clarify what role, if any, the Pentagon had in the derivation of the bogus tale.

Loeb has effectively absolved the Pentagon in the hero-warrior tale about Lynch, saying in an interview on NPR in December 2003:

“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.”


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