W. Joseph Campbell

ABC News invokes false narrative of Jessica Lynch case

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on December 17, 2011 at 10:22 am

ABC News yesterday invoked the false derivation of the hero-warrior myth about Jessica Lynch, declaring that “the U.S. government portrayed her as a fearless heroine who had gone down fighting” early in the Iraq War.

Not so. The Washington Post did that.

The Post — alone — placed the bogus tale about Lynch and her battlefield derring-do into the public domain in April 2003, in an electrifying, front-page article that was picked up by news organizations around the world.

The “U.S. government” — specifically, the Pentagon — was loath to embrace the tale about Lynch and her heroics.

Indeed, as one of the Post reporters on the botched report about Lynch later said:

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

The reporter, Vernon Loeb, also said in an interview on NPR: “They wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch.”

Loeb and another Post reporter, Susan Schmidt, had reported on April 3, 2003, that Lynch fought fiercely in the ambush of her unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, on March 23, 2003. Neither Loeb nor Schmidt was with Lynch’s unit; no journalist was.

Loeb and Schmidt wrote that Lynch “shot several enemy soldiers” and  “continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her in fighting” at Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq.

Loeb and Schmidt quoted a source, to whom they referred as a “U.S. official,” as saying:

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

Though dramatic, and even cinematic, the Post report was utterly wrong.

Lynch had not fired a shot in the ambush; her weapon jammed. Lynch was neither shot nor stabbed; she suffered shattering injuries in the crash of a Humvee as it tried to escape the ambush.

The Post has never fully explained how it botched the hero-warrior story about Lynch. It has never disclosed the identities of the anonymous sources that led it so badly awry on the Lynch story.

The murkiness of the newspaper’s sourcing has not only encouraged the rise of the false narrative, which ABC News cited in asserting, without attribution, that the “U.S. government portrayed” Lynch as a hero.

The Post’s obscure sourcing also has given rise to false allegations. The author Jon Krakauer, for example, wrongly accused Jim Wilkinson, a communications official in the administration of President George Bush, of having “arranged to give the Washington Post exclusive access” to the Lynch hero-warrior tale.

Krakauer called Wilkinson a “master propagandist” who “deserves top billing for creating the myth of Jessica Lynch.”

Krakauer has since quietly rescinded those allegations, which he had included in his 2009 book, Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman.

Another upshot of the false narrative is that it has obscured wide recognition of a real hero at Nasiriyah, a sergeant in Lynch’s unit named Donald Walters.

Sgt. Walters

As I write in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, Walters’ battlefield heroics were likely misattributed to Lynch, owing to mistranslation of Iraqi radio transmissions from the battlefield.

“During the ambush in Nasiriyah,” I write, “… Walters either stayed behind, or was left behind, to lay down covering fire as his fellow soldiers tried to make their escape. Walters fought his attackers in a fashion that the Post attributed to Lynch.”

I point out that the most detailed account of Walters’ bravery appears in Richard Lowry’s fine study of the fighting at Nasiriyah, Marines in the Garden of Eden.

Lowry wrote that Walters killed “several Iraqis before he was surrounded and captured” by Iraqi irregulars, the Fedayeen, and executed.

“We will never really know the details of Walters’ horrible ordeal,” Lowry wrote. “We do know that he risked his life to save his comrades and was separated from the rest of the convoy, deep in enemy territory.

“We know that he fought until he could no longer resist.”

The Post, though, has shown scant interest in Walters’ heroism.

A database search of Post articles published since April 2003 revealed just four stories in which Walters was mentioned. None of those articles discussed in any detail his bravery at Nasiriyah.


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