W. Joseph Campbell

Liz Trotta mangles Jessica Lynch ‘fairy tale’

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on February 20, 2012 at 10:12 am

Veteran broadcast journalist Liz Trotta went on Fox News yesterday to condemn plans to ease restrictions on women in Army combat positions.

In doing so, Trotta referred to — and mangled — key elements of the saga of Jessica Lynch, the Army private thrust into an international spotlight by a newspaper’s botched report about her battlefield heroics in Iraq in March 2003.

Trotta said in an appearance on the Fox program “America’s News HQ” that “the political correctness infecting the Pentagon has resulted in silly and dishonest fairy tales about female heroism. Has anyone forgotten the Jessica Lynch story?

“A PFC captured by the Iraqis and by all accounts, including her own, not mistreated. Yet the Pentagon saw fit to send in the SEALs to rescue her from a hospital in a videotaped operation that seemed headed straight to Hollywood.”


Let’s call out the errors there: Lynch was mistreated, and videotaping her rescue was routine practice in high-priority military operations —  not done with Hollywood in mind.

By Lynch’s own account — contained in a book by Rick Bragg and titled I Am a Soldier, Too — she was knocked out in the crash of a Humvee in attempting to escape an ambush in Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq. While unconscious, Lynch “was a victim of anal sexual assault,” the book says, adding:

“The records do not tell whether her captors assaulted her almost lifeless, broken body after she was lifted from the wreckage [of the Humvee], or if they assaulted her and then broke her bones into splinters until she was almost dead.”

She was rescued from an Iraqi hospital on April 1, 2003, in an operation that included not only Navy SEALS but Marines and Army Rangers as well.

It was the first rescue of a captured American solder from behind enemy lines since World War II.

I discuss the mythology of the Lynch case in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, noting that the Defense Department’s inspector general found no evidence to support the notion Lynch’s rescue “was a staged media event.”

The then-acting inspector general, Thomas F. Gimble, said in a report to Congress in 2007 that the rescue operation was determined to have been “a valid mission” to recover a prisoner of war “under combat conditions.”

That the rescue was videotaped was not unusual, Gimble said, noting that combat cameramen routinely filmed high-priority operations. In the Lynch case, he said, there was “no indication that any service member was acting for the camera during the rescue mission.”

Gimble also said the extrication team “fully expected to meet stiff resistance” in mounting the rescue.

Trotta’s mangled account was the latest in a succession of erroneous characterizations about the Lynch case, which burst into prominence April 3, 2003, in a sensational, front-page report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper cited otherwise unidentified “U.S. officials” and said Lynch, a supply clerk, had fought fiercely in the ambush at Nasiriyah, that she had “continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her ….”

The Post quoted one of the anonymous officials as saying: “She was fighting to the death. She did not want to be taken alive.”

But the report was bogus. Little of it was true.

Lynch, who was not in a combat unit, never fired a shot in the ambush; her weapon jammed.

Not was she shot, as the Post reported. She suffered shattering injuries in the crash of the Humvee.

The Post, moreover, has never adequately explained how it erred so utterly in its hero-warrior story about Lynch, a story that was picked up by news organizations around the world.

More recently, in an interview with Lynch last month, Fox News anchorman Shepard Smith claimed without providing evidence that “the government” had made up the tale about Lynch’s battlefield heroics in Iraq.

He ignored the singular role of the Washington Post in placing the hero-warrior tale about Lynch into the public domain.


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