W. Joseph Campbell

Jessica Lynch featured in ‘this day in history’ feature; WaPo ignored

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on July 25, 2011 at 10:00 am

Lynch in 2003

It 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 thrust her into the international limelight.

It’s likewise remarkable how seldom the Washington Post is identified as the sole source of the tale about her derring-do — how Lynch, a private in a non-combat Army maintenance unit, supposedly fought ferociously against Iraqi attackers, despite being shot and stabbed.

None of it was true; Lynch suffered neither gunshot nor stab wounds. She was badly injured in the crash of a Humvee as its fled the ambush. But Lynch never fired a shot in the attack, which took place March 23, 2003, in Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.

The other day, the online site of cable TV’s History Channel recalled Lynch and the return in July 2003 to her hometown in West Virginia as the “lead story” of its “this day in history” feature.

Predictably, the account made no mention of the singular role the Washington Post played in thrusting the bogus hero-warrior story into the public domain. The ensuing worldwide sensation had the effect of making Lynch the single best-known American soldier of the war.

Instead of mentioning the Post, the History Channel feature referred vaguely to “news accounts indicating that even after Lynch was wounded during the ambush she fought back against her captors.”

And just as vaguely, it blamed the government for the bogus story, noting that critics “charged the U.S. government with embellishing her story to boost patriotism and help promote the Iraq war.”

So just who in the “U.S. government” concocted the Lynch story “to boost patriotism and help promote the Iraq war”? Nor surprisingly, the History Channel feature didn’t say: Such accusations typically are unaccompanied by specific details.

The accusation is, though, sometimes aimed at the Pentagon — that the military ginned up the hero-warrior tale about Lynch to bolster public support for the war.

But that claim is untenable for at least two reasons, as I discuss in my latest book, Getting It Wrong.

One, public backing for the war in Iraq was quite strong in the conflict’s early days. For example, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, taken of 1,012 American adults on March 29 and 30, 2003, found that 85.5 percent of respondents thought the war effort was going “very well” or “moderately well” for U.S. forces. And that was before Baghdad fell to U.S. ground forces.

So there was no need or incentive to concoct a hero-warrior tale to bolster support for the war.

Two, and more important, one of the Post reporters who wrote the bogus hero-warrior story about Lynch said in late 2003 that the Pentagon was not the source. The reporter, Vernon Loeb, stated flatly:

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

Loeb also said in the interview, which aired December 15, 2003, on National Public Radio, that the Pentagon “wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch.”

He added:

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

On an earlier occasion, Loeb was quoted in a commentary in the New York Times as saying:

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

The Post’s hero-warrior story about Lynch was published April 3, 2003, and cited otherwise anonymous “U.S. officials” as sources.

As I’ve previously stated at Media Myth Alert, it is high time for the Post to identify the “U.S. officials” who led it astray.

The Post is under no obligation to protect the identity of sources who misled it so badly. Identifying them would clear the record by clarifying what role, if any, the Pentagon or other U.S. agencies had in the derivation of the bogus tale.

And doing so certainly would help make those periodic retrospective pieces such as the History Channel’s writeup about Lynch more complete, revealing, and accurate.


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