W. Joseph Campbell

Misremembering the Jessica Lynch case, on Memorial Day

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths on May 28, 2012 at 5:11 pm

It’s astonishing how engrained the false narrative has become that the Pentagon made up the hero-warrior tale about Army private Jessica Lynch in the early days of the Iraq War.

It is often invoked — and typically without any reference to specific sources.

(Newseum image)

Take, for example, the top-of-the-front-page article today in today’s The State newspaper in South Carolina, which refers to unspecified “critics” who “charge that the Pentagon exaggerated her wounds by saying she was shot and stabbed when she wasn’t.”

As I’ve noted many times at Media Myth Alert, the Pentagon wasn’t the source for the bogus tale about Lynch’s heroics in an ambush at Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.

It was the Washington Post that thrust the story into the public domain in a dramatic account published on its front page on April 3, 2003.

The Post’s report said Lynch, then a 19-year-old supply clerk in the Army’s 507th Maintenance Company, fired at attacking Iraqis “even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her in fighting” on March 23, 2003.

The story, which was picked up by news organizations around the world, was embarrassingly wrong in all important details. Lynch, it quickly turned out, was neither shot nor stabbed, as the Post had reported. She did not fire a shot in the ambush. She suffered severe injuries in the crash of a Humvee as it tried to flee the ambush.

Lynch was taken prisoner and treated at an Iraqi hospital, from where she was rescued April 1, 2003, by a U.S. special operations team.

As Lynch herself insists, she was no hero (although she has said she could have embraced the Post’s hero-warrior tale and no one would’ve been the wiser).

We know the Pentagon wasn’t the source of the Post’s exaggerated tale: Vernon Loeb, one of the reporters who wrote the story, said so in an interview on Fresh Air, an NPR radio program, in mid-December 2003.

In the interview, Loeb said flatly:

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

Loeb also said that he “could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about” the Lynch case.

“They wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch,” Loeb declared, adding:

“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.”

Loeb said the details about Lynch’s supposed heroics came from “some really good intelligence sources” in Washington, D.C. — sources whom the Post has never specifically identified, although it should.

The State’s article is pegged to Memorial Day and recalls the death at Nasiriyah of Sgt. George Buggs. He was the first serviceman from South Carolina killed in Iraq.

The article notes that “Buggs’ death is now forgotten by most except family and friends. … But his story is both intertwined and overshadowed by one of the most tragic and controversial events in modern U.S. military history — the capture and rescue of a young soldier from West Virginia named Jessica Lynch.”

The article invokes those nameless “critics” in saying they “charged that the United States government exaggerated the facts of the rescue, manipulated the media and exploited Lynch to build public support for a war many thought was unnecessary.”

Such claims are erroneous in at least two important respects.

One, the Defense Department’s acting inspector general reported finding no evidence to support the notion that Lynch’s rescue “was a staged media event.” Rather, the inspector general’s report said the rescue operation was “a valid mission” to recover a prisoner of war “under combat conditions.” It further stated that the “level of force used by [the special forces team] to perform the mission was consistent with the anticipated resistance and established doctrine.”

Two, the U.S. government had little reason to exploit the Lynch case as a means “to build public support”  for the Iraq War. As I point out in my 2010 book, Getting It Wrong:

“It may be little-recalled now, but the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was widely supported by the American public. Polling data from March and April 2003, the opening days and weeks of the war, show an overwhelming percentage of Americans supported the conflict and believed the war effort, overall, was going well.”

Among those public opinion polls was a Washington Post-ABC News survey conducted in late March and early April 2003. The poll found that eight of ten Americans felt the war effort was going well, and 71 percent approved of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq situation.

I further note in Getting It Wrong:

“At the time of the Lynch rescue, U.S. forces were closing in on Baghdad. So it defies logic to argue that the American military would have singled out and hyped the Lynch rescue for morale-building purposes when its central and vastly more important wartime objective was within reach.”


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