W. Joseph Campbell

Fox News reiterates dubious Lynch-source claim, ignores WaPo role

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Washington Post on January 16, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Fox News repeated today its dubious claim about the source of the mythical hero-warrior tale about Jessica Lynch, saying without supporting evidence that the “U.S. government” was behind the bogus story.

The Fox News claim was offered in an online commentary posted four days after an anchor for the cable network, Shepard Smith, made a similarly vague assertion in a televised interview with Lynch.

In both the commentary and the interview, Fox ignored the singular role of the Washington Post in placing the hero-warrior tale about Lynch into the public domain in what was a sensational, front page story published April 3, 2003.

The Post erroneously reported that Lynch, an Army supply clerk, had fought fiercely in the ambush of her unit in Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq. In fact, Lynch never fired a shot in the attack.

In the years since, the Post has never fully explained how it got the story so utterly wrong, effectively permitting a tenacious false narrative to take hold that the “government” — or the “military” — concocted the story for cynical propaganda purposes.

The commentary posted today at the Fox News online site ruminated about the quality of heroes and declared:

“Truth is an unavoidable casualty in catastrophe.

“Just last week former Private Jessica Lynch appeared on the FOX News Channel to share her side of the story of her famous capture and rescue in Iraq in 2003. The U.S. government initially claimed that then 19-year-old Lynch kept firing her weapon during an Iraqi ambush on her convoy in which she was the lone survivor.”

As I noted at Media Myth Alert last week in discussing Smith’s comments, the inclination by commentators on the political left and the right has been to overlook  the journalistic origins of the bogus hero-warrior tale about Lynch and assign blame vaguely to such faceless entities as “the government” or “the military.”

I further noted that never when such claims are raised is a specific culprit singled out. Just as rarely is the Post’s botched reporting on the bogus hero-warrior tale recalled or much discussed.

But quite simply, to ignore the Post’s central role in the tale about Lynch is to mislead and to assign fault improperly.

The Post’s report about Lynch was published beneath the headline:

“‘She was fighting to the death.'”

The report cited “U.S. officials” as sources in saying:

“Lynch, a 19-year-old supply clerk, 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” in Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003.

While the Post has never specifically identified the “U.S. officials” to whom it referred in the Lynch story, it is clear the Pentagon had little to do with pushing or promoting the story.

We know this from Vernon Loeb, one of the Post reporters on the botched story about Lynch.

In an interview on an NPR program in December 2003, Loeb referred to the newspaper’s  sources on the Lynch story as “some really good intelligence sources here in Washington” who had received “indications that she had, you know, fired back and resisted her capture and actually been shot and possibly stabbed doing so.”

Loeb also said:

“Our sources for that story were not Pentagon sources.  And, in fact, I could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about those [battlefield intelligence] reports 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.

“I’ve never believed that, at least as far as the story we wrote goes, that it was a Pentagon attempt to create a hero there.”

And as I discuss in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, Loeb on another occasion was quoted as saying:

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

So from where did this false narrative arise about Lynch?

A contributing factor certainly was the claim by best-selling author Jon Krakauer, who inaccurately asserted that the Post’s source was a former White House official named Jim Wilkinson. In 2003, Wilkinson was director of strategic communications for General Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.

In his 2009 book,  Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, Krakauer wrote that Wilkinson was “a master propagandist” who “duped reporters and editors at the Washington Post.”

Wilkinson vigorously denied the unattributed claims and Krakauer last year quietly rolled back the assertions. A correction was inserted in a recent printing of the paperback edition of Where Men Win Glory, stating:

“Earlier editions of this book stated that it was Jim Wilkinson ‘who arranged to give the Washington Post exclusive access’ to this leaked intelligence [about Jessica Lynch]. This is incorrect. Wilkinson had nothing to do with the leak.”


Recent and related:

  1. […] recently, in an interview with Lynch last month, Fox News anchorman Shepard Smith claimed without providing evidence that “the […]

  2. […] accounts of the exaggerated hero-warrior tale blame the U.S. government or the U.S. military — or simply the U.S. — for cynically attempting to turn Lynch, […]

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