W. Joseph Campbell

Posts Tagged ‘MSNBC’

Maddow cherry-picks to avoid correcting claim about Pentagon, Jessica Lynch

In Debunking, Error, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Newspapers, Scandal, Television, Washington Post on June 10, 2014 at 6:18 pm

To cherry-pick is to be highly selective, to use facts that support one’s position while ignoring the confounding evidence.

Maddow (NBC News)

Maddow (NBC News)

And that’s essentially what Rachel Maddow did on her MSNBC program last night. She cherry-picked details about the reporting of the hero-warrior story about Jessica Lynch to avoid correcting her erroneous claim on a show June 3. Maddow had said in a commentary that night “the Pentagon made up” the tale of Lynch’s battlefield heroics in the first days of the Iraq War.

In cherry-picking, Maddow failed to mention the foundation of the bogus hero-warrior story – the Washington Post article that cited “U.S. officials” in saying that Lynch, then a 19-year-old supply clerk, had fought fiercely in the ambush of her Army unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, on March 23, 2003. The Post’s story turned out to be wrong in almost all vital details.

One of the reporters on the story, which the Post published on its front page on April 3, 2003, later said, unequivocally:

Our sources for that story were not Pentagon sources.”

Rather, he said, without a trace of irony, they were “some really good intelligence sources” in Washington, D.C.

The reporter was Vernon Loeb, who at the time the Post’s defense correspondent. He also said in an interview that aired on NPR in December 2003: “We got these intelligence reports right as [Lynch] was being rescued” in an operation mounted by U.S. special forces on April 1, 2003. Lynch has been grievously injured in the crash of a Humvee in trying to escape the ambush; she was taken prisoner and held at an Iraqi hospital in Nasiriyah.

Loeb said the Post’s story “turned out to be wrong because intelligence information we were given was wrong.”

What’s more, he said:

“I could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about those [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.”

Despite Loeb’s statements about the sourcing of the hero-warrior story, a false narrative has taken hold over the years that the Pentagon concocted the tale about Lynch’s battlefield derring-do, supposedly to build homefront support for the war.

On her show last night, Maddow referred neither to Loeb’s statements nor to the Post’s seminal report about Lynch. She instead assailed Politifact, a blog aligned with Punditfact, which had assessed as false her claim last week that the Pentagon “made up” the tale of Lynch’s heroics.

According to a transcript of her remarks last night, Maddow smugly declared:

“So, this is a pretty simple thing from the fact-checking perspective. Did the military provide false information that led to the narrative that Jessica Lynch went down fighting when she was captured?”

(Note the none-too-subtle shift: On her program June 3, Maddow asserted that “the Pentagon made up” the story about Lynch’s heroics. Last night, her parameters were: “Did the military provide false information that led to the narrative ….” Not quite the same.)

Maddow referred last night to a report by the Military Times on April 3, 2003, in which a military spokesman, Frank Thorp, was quoted as saying that Lynch “waged quite a battle prior to her capture.

“We do have very strong indications that Jessica Lynch was not captured very easily,” Thorp also was quoted as saying. “Reports are that she fired her (M-16 rifle) until she had no more ammunition.”

Maddow crowed: “That information straight from a military public affairs official was not true. It was made up. But it landed in press reports anyway.”

What Maddow neglected to mention was that Thorp was recapping for the Military Times what the Washington Post had already published.

Lynch_headline_Post

WaPo’s hero-warrior story

Thorp,  then a Navy captain assigned to the U.S. Central Command headquarters in Doha, Qatar, was not inventing, he was following. He was restating elements of a story the Post had already placed in circulation, a story based on intelligence sources, a story that quickly attracted all sorts of international attention.

As the Post’s ombudsman at the time, Michael Getler, pointed out: “The Post story [about Lynch] was exclusive. The rest of the world’s media picked it up from The Post, which put this tale into the public domain.”

Indeed, it is impossible to address the hero-warrior tale about Lynch without considering the Washington Post’s central and decisive role in the story. And Thorp’s subsequent statements made clear that he had been following the Post’s lead that day. Thorp said in an email in 2007 to a congressional staffer who had asked about the comments to the Military Times:

“As I recall, this was a short interview and media desperately wanted me to confirm the story that was running in the States .…  I never said that I had seen any intel or even intimated the same .… I may have said I am familiar with ‘the reports’ meaning the press reports, but as you can see I did not confirm them .… We did have reports of a battle and that a firefight had occurred .… That is what I stated.” (Ellipses in the original.)

Thorp later was quoted by Newsweek as saying he was not a source for the Post on its seminal story about Lynch’s heroics.

Which makes sense. Had he been a source for the Post on the Lynch story, why would the newspaper resist identifying him as such, especially after his remarks to the Military Times? If Thorp, a military spokesman, had been a source for the Post, why would Loeb, months after the hero-warrior story was published, insist that his sources had been “intelligence sources”?

Thorp at most played a bit part in the Lynch saga.

Besides, the cynical, Pentagon-made-it-up narrative never made much sense. As I wrote in my media-mythbusting book, 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.”

WJC

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Now from the right: ‘American Spectator’ wrongly says Jessica Lynch was ‘portrayed by Pentagon as hero’

In Debunking, Error, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Scandal, Washington Post on June 8, 2014 at 8:58 am

In an otherwise cogent critique of Rachel Maddow’s recent commentary about returned American prisoner Bowe Berghdahl, the right-of-center American Spectator wrongly accused the Pentagon of portraying Jessica Lynch “as a hero” early in the Iraq War.

Lynch was a 19-year-old Army supply clerk severely injured March 23, 2003, in the crash of her Humvee while fleeing an ambush in Nasiriyah in southern Iraq. The Washington Post, though, reported that Lynch had suffered gunshot and stab wounds as she fought fiercely against the attacking Iraqis. She kept firing, the Post said, until she ran out of ammunition.

None of those details was accurate, however. Lynch never fired a shot in the ambush; her weapon jammed. She was neither shot nor stabbed, but was badly hurt in the Humvee crash. Lynch was taken prisoner and held in an Iraqi hospital where she lingered near death until rescued by U.S. special forces on April 1, 2003.

AmSpecturkey_1

American Spectator logo

In the years since the Post’s hero-warrior story was published on April 3, 2003, a false narrative has taken hold that says the Pentagon concocted the tale about Lynch’s battlefield derring-do. The American Spectator’s claim, included in a commentary posted online Friday, is the latest evocation of that narrative.

We know it’s a false narrative because one of the Post reporters on the story has flatly stated that the newspaper’s sources for the story “were not Pentagon sources.” The reporter, Vernon Loeb, who in 2003 was the Post’s defense correspondent, further stated in an interview in December 2003 on NPR that Pentagon officials “wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch.”

Loeb, now managing editor at the Houston Chronicle, also said in the interview:

“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.”

None of that what acknowledged by the liberal Maddow in an on-air commentary Tuesday on MSNBC in which she sought to equate the rescue of Lynch with the release of Bergdahl, the American soldier whose comrades say deserted his post in Afghanistan in 2009. Bergdahl was taken captive by the Taliban and exchanged a week ago for five senior Taliban figures.

In her commentary, Maddow asserted without citing sources that the Pentagon had “made up” the tale of Lynch’s battlefield heroics. The American Spectator, in taking issue with Maddow’s equating the cases of Lynch and Bergdahl, committed a similar error: Lynch, it said, “was initially portrayed by the Pentagon as a hero … who went down guns blazing and riddled with bullets.”

Loeb and the Post have never made clear how it got the Lynch-combat story so utterly wrong — a story that Michael Getler, then the newspaper’s ombudsman, memorably described as having “had an odor to it almost from the beginning.”

Loeb’s interview on NPR was the Post’s most detailed public discussion about sourcing for that story, which Loeb and co-author Susan Schmidt reported from Washington, D.C. But even that discussion fell woefully short in important respects.

In the NPR interview, Loeb said “we were told by some really good intelligence sources here in Washington that, you know, there were indications that [Lynch] had, you know, fired back and resisted her capture and actually been shot and possibly stabbed doing so. None of this turned out to be the case as we, you know, quickly learned. But, you know, we basically told our readers that day what the U.S. intelligence community was telling senior members of the U.S. government. It just kind of goes back to the old adage that, you know, initial reports from the battlefield are almost always wrong.”

Despite the recognized unreliability of such reports, the Post placed its account of Lynch’s supposed exploits in combat on the front page, thrusting the hero-warrior tale into the public domain. And the story was picked up by news organizations around the world. The Times of London, for example, declared that “Private Lynch has won a place in history as a gritty, all-American hero, to rival the likes of Bonnie and Clyde.”

In its erroneous report about Lynch, Post cited otherwise unnamed “U.S. officials” as sources. The newspaper has never identified them.Getting It Wrong_cover

In 2008, I called Loeb to discuss the matter but he hung up on me. I was at the time researching my media-mythbusting book, Getting It Wrong, a chapter of which is devoted to the bogus hero-warrior story about Lynch.

So if the Post will not disclose the sources that led it to such embarrassment, the next-best step would be for news organizations to avoid, resist, and deep-six the false narrative about Lynch and the Pentagon.

Important steps to that end can be taken if Maddow and the American Spectator were to issue corrections to their erroneous reports.

WJC

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Maddow wrongly declares Pentagon ‘made up’ bogus tale about Jessica Lynch’s battlefield heroics

In Debunking, Error, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Newspapers, Television on June 4, 2014 at 6:43 pm
Lynch_headline_Post

The hero-warrior tale: WaPo’s story

In a logically confused commentary on her MSNBC program last night, Rachel Maddow wrongly accused the Pentagon of having “made up” the bogus account of Jessica Lynch’s battlefield heroics early in the Iraq War.

Maddow cited no source for her claim, offered as she revisited at some length the hero-warrior tale about Lynch, an Army supply clerk thrust into international fame on April 3, 2003, in an electrifying, front-page story in the Washington Post.

The Post article cited otherwise unidentified “U.S. officials” in declaring that Lynch, then a 19-year-old private, had fought fiercely in the ambush of her unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, in Nasiriyah in southern Iraq on March 23, 2003.

Vernon Loeb, one of the Post reporters on that story — which turned out to be wrong in almost every important detail — later made clear that the Pentagon had not been the newspaper’s source.

As I noted in my media-mythbusting book, Getting It Wrong, Loeb went on NPR’s Fresh Air program in December 2003 and declared, unequivocally:

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

Loeb, then the Post’s defense correspondent, also said in the NPR interview that Pentagon officials “wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch.”

He further declared:

“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.”

And yet none of that vital context was known to, or acknowledged by, Maddow as she discussed the Lynch case last night.

Maddow did so in an odd, contorted, and ultimately unpersuasive attempt to locate parallels between Lynch — who was taken prisoner at Nasiriyah and was rescued 11 days later by U.S. special forces — and the controversial recent release of Bowe Bergdahl, an Army sergeant who apparently walked away from his post in Afghanistan and was held captive by the Taliban for five years.

The administration of President Barack Obama over the weekend swapped five senior Taliban figures for Bergdahl’s freedom.

According to a transcript of her program, Maddow recalled that Lynch and her unit “were supposed to take a detour around the city of Nasiriyah, but they didn’t. They took a wrong turn or more likely a few wrong turns. And they ended up right in the city center.

“They were supposed to go around the city and not go through it at all. They ended up wrong turn after wrong turn, right in the city center, undefended, in territory where the U.S. Army knew they were likely to be attacks or ambushes, and they just drove right into it.”

But the 507th Maintenance wasn’t exactly “undefended”; some of its soldiers put up terrific resistance. Among them was Sergeant Donald Walters, a cook who put down covering fire as his comrades tried to escape the ambush.

Walters and 10 other soldiers in the 507th Maintenance were killed at Nasiriyah. Lynch suffered shattering injuries in the crash of her Humvee as it fled the attack.

Maddow then raised questions about Lynch’s rescue (which took place two days before the Post’s hero-warrior story was published) that no one seriously poses:

“Should that rescue not have happened? Should Jessica Lynch have been left there? Seriously, is that what we think about these things now?

“Private First Class Jessica Lynch, star of the show of that rescue. If the heroics that the Pentagon made up about her didn’t really happen, and they didn’t, maybe the U.S. special forces who rescued her, maybe they shouldn’t have bothered. After all, maybe it was their own screw-up that got them ambushed and hurt and captured in the first place.

“Is that how we think about these things now?” Maddow asked. “Is that how we think now about that rescue in hindsight knowing what we know now?

“Because that kind of a case, that obscenity of a case that maybe some Americans might deserve to be left behind, that is new cause célèbre on the American right, right now, that the American prisoner of war, the last American prisoner of war, the last and only one still held from either the Iraq war or the Afghanistan war, the American prisoner of war, Bowe Bergdahl, he did not deserve to be freed — that the U.S. government working to free him, succeeding to free him, that was a shame somehow, because yes, sure, he was an American soldier, but he was a bad one,” Maddow said.

That’s to torture logic, and to raise strawman arguments in seeking equivalence in the cases of Lynch — who undeniably was a prisoner of war, if not a heroic one — and of Bergdahl. The circumstances are vastly different.

But what most interests Media Myth Alert is Maddow’s claim, offered casually and without reference to sources, “that the Pentagon made up” the tale of Lynch’s heroics.

Private Lynch

Private Lynch

The Pentagon rather treated the Lynch hero-warrior story as if it were radioactive. As Loeb, now a top editor at the Houston Chronicle, declared on another occasion:

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

The false narrative about Lynch and the Pentagon represents continuing fallout not only from the Post’s bungled reporting in April 2003 but from the newspaper’s reluctance to identify the sources on whom Loeb and fellow reporter Susan Schmidt relied in preparing the hero-warrior story.

Only by identifying the sources who led it awry on that story will the Post set right a false narrative that still circulates widely, as Maddow’s commentary last night made quite clear.

WJC

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On the thin contributions of media rabble-rousers

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Yellow Journalism on January 26, 2011 at 6:39 am

The departure of the bombastic Keith Olbermann from MSNBC’s primetime lineup is no an occasion for mourning.

But it’s to be regretted.

A little.

So suggested Bret Stephens yesterday in hisWall Street Journal column about Olbermann, who abruptly left his “Countdown” show at the end of last week.

Stephens pointed out:

“The ‘Countdown’ host did away with the old-fashioned liberal snigger and replaced it with a full-frontal snarl. Put simply, Mr. Olbermann had a genuine faith in populism, something liberals more often preach than practice.”

Stephens also offered this intriguing observation:

“America does better when its political debates descend, as they so often do on (or between) MSNBC and Fox News, into honest brawls.”

He may be right, although I wish he had elaborated on that point.

The observation about “honest brawls” reminded me of the insults and brickbats that American newspaper editors of the 1890s routinely exchanged in print. These were vigorous, lusty,  often vicious exchanges — and there really was little memorable or lasting about them. Save, perhaps, for an epithet or two.

Like that of “yellow journalism.”

Wardman, father to a sneer

As I discussed in my 2001 book, Yellow Journalism: Puncturing the Myths Defining the Legacies, the epithet emerged in late January 1897, during the failed campaign of Ervin Wardman, a New York newspaper editor, to drive a stake into the heart of the upstart journalism of William Randolph Hearst and, to a lesser extent, of Joseph Pulitzer.

Yellow journalism” took hold and spread quickly in 1897; it lives on today, as a vague but handy smear especially favored by letter-writers to newspapers.

Trouble is, the sneer “yellow journalism” is so ill-defined and flabby that it has become synonymous with journalistic sins of all kinds — exaggeration, sensationalism, hype, plagiarism, what have you.

And the trouble with media rabble-rousers like Olbermann is that their commentary often lacks wit and nuance, and tends to be superficial. It’s not deft, typically, and it’s unheard of for them to invoke media-driven myths–those dubious stories about the news media that masquerade as factual.

I address and debunk 10 prominent media-driven myths in my latest book, Getting It Wrong.

On his way out, in announcing his abrupt departure, Olbermann indulged in media myth. He described as “exaggerated” the rescue of Army private Jessica Lynch in Iraq in 2003. Hyped, maybe a bit. But the Lynch rescue, conducted by a U.S. special operations force under combat conditions, was not exaggerated.

As I note in Getting It Wrong, the Defense Department’s inspector general reported in 2007 that the rescue of Lynch from an Iraqi hospital was “a valid mission” to recover a prisoner of war.

There was no evidence to suggest that the rescue “was a staged media event” even though it was videotaped, as such missions often are.

Olbermann had on other occasions invoked the media myth surrounding Edward R. Murrow, whom he sought to emulate by borrowing the legendary broadcaster’s sign-off, “Good night, and good luck.”

In November, Olbermann referred to Murrow as “a paragon of straight reporting” while claiming the American press “stood idly by” as Senator Joseph R. McCarthy pursued his communists-in-government witch-hunt.

On March 9, 1954, during a 30-minute CBS television show called See It Now, “Murrow slayed the dragon,” Olbermann declared.

As I point out in Getting It Wrong, neither Murrow nor his producer, Fred Friendly, embraced the dragon-slaying interpretation. (Friendly wrote in his memoir, Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control: “To say that the Murrow broadcast of March 9, 1954, was the decisive blow against Senator McCarthy’s power is as inaccurate as it is to say that Joseph R. McCarthy … single-handedly gave birth to McCarthyism.”)

And it’s quite clear that the American press did not stand “idly by” as the scourge of McCarthyism emerged.

As I point out in Getting It Wrong:

“Long before the See It Now program, several prominent journalists—including the Washington-based syndicated columnist Drew Pearson—had become persistent and searching critics of McCarthy, his record, and his tactics.”

By the time Murrow took on McCarthy in March 1954, Americans weren’t waiting for a white knight to tell them about the toxic threat the senator posed.

Thanks to the work of Pearson and other journalists, they already knew.

WJC

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Indulging in myth on the way out

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on January 22, 2011 at 9:04 am

The insufferable Keith Olbermann bid sudden farewell last night, indulging in media myth as he left his primetime “Countdown” show on MSNBC.

Olbermann, who quit or was pushed out midway through a four-year contract,  said in an on-air valedictory that his program had “established its position as anti-establishment with the stagecraft of Mission Accomplished to the exaggerated rescue of Jessica Lynch in Iraq to the death of Pat Tillman to Hurricane Katrina to the nexus of politics and terror to the first special comment.”

The reference to the “exaggerated rescue of Jessica Lynch”  caught the attention of Media Myth Alert, given that Olbermann clearly suggested the mission was needlessly hyped.

That claim is an element of the multidimensional media myth that has come to define the Lynch case, which I examine in my mythbusting book, Getting It Wrong.

Lynch was a 19-year-old Army private captured after an ambush in Nasiriyah in the first days of the Iraq War in 2003. She was badly injured and lingered near death at an Iraqi hospital, from where she rescued April 1, 2003, in a swift and well-coordinated raid by a U.S. special operations team.

The rescue of Jessica Lynch

Lynch was the first captured American soldier rescued from behind enemy lines since World War II.

In mid-May 2003, the British Broadcasting Corporation aired a report claiming the Lynch rescue was “one of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived,” a shameless bit of stagecraft done for propaganda purposes.

The BBC report interviewed an Iraqi doctor who said the rescue raid “was like a Hollywood film. They cried, ‘go, go, go,’ with guns and blanks without bullets and the sound of explosion.”

The Pentagon dismissed the BBC’s “news management” claims as “void of all facts and absolutely ridiculous.” Experts scoffed at the claim that Special Operations units would conduct a mission with blanks in their weapons, as the BBC had reported.

At the request of three Democratic members of Congress, including then-Congressman Rahm Emanuel, the Defense Department inspector general investigated the BBC’s allegations.

As I note in Getting It Wrong, Thomas F. Gimble, the acting inspector general, reported to Congress in April 2007 that the BBC’s allegations had not been substantiated, that no evidence had been uncovered to support the notion the rescue “was a staged media event.”

Rather, Gimble said, the rescue operation was found to have been “a valid mission” to recover a prisoner of war “under combat conditions.”

Gimble said in written testimony that more than 30 witnesses were interviewed in the inspector general’s inquiry, including members of the Special Operations rescue team. Few if any of those witnesses had been interviewed the BBC or other news organizations, he said.

The inspector general’s report was, I note in Getting It Wrong, “an unequivocal rebuke to the BBC’s account.

“Even so, by the time Gimble testified, four years had passed and the BBC’s version had become an unshakeable, widely accepted element of the Lynch saga,” as suggested in Olbermann’s farewell remarks last night.

The BBC claim that the rescue mission was counterfeit corresponded to a broader view that the Pentagon was up to no good in the Lynch case, that it had planted an erroneous report about her supposed battlefield heroics in order to boost popular support for the war.

The erroneous report appeared in the Washington Post on April 3, 2003, two days after the rescue.

In a front-page account published beneath the headline, “‘She was fighting to the death,'” the Post anonymously cited “U.S. officials” in saying Lynch had “fought fiercely” in the ambush of her unit in Nasiriyah, that she had “shot several enemy soldiers,” and that she had continued firing her weapon “until she ran out of ammunition.”

As it turned out, the hero-warrior tale — written by Susan Schmidt and Vernon Loeb — untrue. Lynch did not fire her weapon in the ambush. Nor was she shot and stabbed, as the Post had reported.

But as months passed and American public opinion turned against the war, the role of the Post in propelling Lynch into unwarranted international fame receded in favor of the false narrative that the Pentagon had made it all up. The Post itself has been complicit at times in suggesting machinations by the Pentagon.

However, as I point out in Getting It Wrong, the Pentagon was not the source for the hero-warrior tale. Loeb, one of the reporters who wrote the botched story, said on an NPR program in mid-December 2003 that he “could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about” the Lynch case.

“They wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch,” Loeb said on the Fresh Air show.

“I just didn’t see the Pentagon trying to create a hero where there was none,” he added. “I mean …they never showed any interest in doing that, to me.”

Loeb declared:

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

Loeb described them as “some really good intelligence sources” in Washington, D.C. , and added:

“We wrote a story that turned out to be wrong because intelligence information we were given was wrong. That happens quite often.”

Despite Loeb’s exculpatory remarks, the erroneous view the Pentagon made up the story about Lynch’s derring-do lives on, in large measure because it fits well with the notion the Iraq War was a botched affair. And like many media myths, the false narrative offers a simplistic, easy-to-understand account of an event that was both complex and faraway.

WJC

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