W. Joseph Campbell

10 weeks on: Still no word from WaPo about apparent digital scrubbing of Lynch articles

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on July 6, 2012 at 7:45 am

Where’s the digital version?

The Washington Post ombudsman noted in a column last month that it is “increasingly difficult for iconoclastic, questioning voices to be heard, whether left, right or center.”

The ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, urged the Post and other news organizations “to seek out and cover the unconventional and outsider voices — whether citizen or expert, whether right, center or left. They’re out there; we just have to listen.”

Trouble is, Pexton, himself, doesn’t always much care for “questioning voices” — such as the questions that I’ve raised with him periodically for the past 10 weeks.

Those questions relate to the apparent digital scrubbing of the Post’s botched reporting about Jessica Lynch and her purported heroics early in the Iraq War.

The Post on April 3, 2003, published a stunning report on its front page (see above) about the supposed heroism of Lynch, a 19-year-old Army supply clerk, during an ambush at Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.

The Post’s report said Lynch had fought fiercely 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 the fighting, which took place March 23, 2003.

The electrifying report — which the Post headlined “She was fighting to the death” — was picked up by news organizations around the world.

But soon it became apparent that the Post’s hero-warrior story was utterly wrong in all important details. Lynch never fired a shot in Iraq; she was neither shot nor stabbed, as the Post had reported, but badly injured in the crash of a Humvee as it fled the ambush.

The botched hero-warrior story is unavailable at the Post’s online site. Until a few weeks ago, clicking on a link to that report did turn up the story’s headline, byline, and publication detail. But otherwise, it was an empty link: It contained no content.

Now, not even the headline, byline, and publication date are available. The link opens to a page that declares in large headlines: “Page Not Found” and “We’re unable to locate the page you requested.”

So changes recently have been made that expunge any reference to the hero-warrior story.

I pointed this out in an email to Pexton a week ago. He has not replied.

In his most recent correspondence with me, an email sent May 30, Pexton wrote:

“This is a stickier problem than I initially thought. It could be as innocent as the Post has moved masses amount of files three times in the past ten years to different servers. Or it could be deliberate.  …  I have one newsroom employee researching this and an IT person checking on it. When I have an answer, I’ll let you know.”

Pexton turned prickly in that email, making clear he did not appreciate my turning to social media to call attention to this matter.

He expressed objections to the Twitter message I sent on May 25, calling attention to a blog post of the same day that four weeks had passed and the Post had offered no explanation for the apparent scrubbing of the Lynch  content.

“Tweeting about your frustration over the time it is taking is a disincentive for me to push harder on it,” Pexton wrote in his email of May 30. “Most readers are polite and understanding. Why should I put your request ahead of others when you choose to coerce and bully?”

Coerce and bully? C’mon. My inquiries about the Lynch stories are much more akin to the “questioning voices” that Pexton has encouraged the Post to seek out and embrace.

More than five weeks have since passed he sent that prickly email. Pexton has offered no explanation as to why the Lynch content has been excised from the Post’s online site.

“I will get an answer for you if it is obtainable and I will let you know when I do,” he wrote on May 30. “That’s the best I can do. If that’s not to your liking, then I apologize but that is your issue, not mine.”

Woah. It’s not important to him whether the Post has scrubbed digital reminders of an acutely embarrassing story?

The Post, after all, called out Vanity Fair in April for digitally scrubbing a flattering profile of the wife of  Bashar al-Asad, Syria’s dictator. At that time, the Post described Vogue’s removal of the digital version of the profile as “an almost-unheard-of step for a mainstream media organization.”

Interestingly, some Lynch-related content from 2003 remains freely available online — notably this article, at the Post’s link-rich Iraq War archive.

I’ve asked Pexton: Would the Post and its readers not be better served by being consistent about its Lynch-related content?

And I have suggested to him that “my request can be distilled thusly:

“Why is some Lynch-related content from 2003 freely available online (see here), while content more embarrassing to the Post (see empty links here, here, and here) not available? Shouldn’t those empty links be restored, and added to the Post’s link-rich Iraq War archive, where Lynch’s name and image already appear?”

He has given no direct responses to those questions.

So what’s to be concluded, 10 weeks after my initial inquiry to Pexton?

Not unlike Vanity Fair, the Post appears to have scrubbed the digital reminders of an embarrassing misstep, of a high-profile story that the newspaper got utterly wrong.

It’s also pretty clear the Post has no interest in making freely available online its botched reporting about Jessica Lynch.

It’s pretty clear, too, that Pexton doesn’t eagerly follow through on his rhetoric about the value and importance of “iconoclastic, questioning voices.”


Many thanks to Instapundit
Glenn Reynolds for linking to this post.

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