The Jessica Lynch story: Manufactured by the Pentagon, or by the press?

Outside of undermining Republican administrations, there’s nothing more the mediots love to do than to advance their pet causes via reporting news stories as an advocate would rather than how a straight news reporter is supposed to be trained to do.

A glaring example of this is the media reporting on what happened to Pfc. Jessica Lynch when she and several of her fellow soldiers from the 507th Ordinance Maintenance Company were ambushed by the enemy on March 23rd, 2003. The Accepted Truth behind this story is that initial reports that she ‘went down firing her weapon’ in a blaze of glory were the fault of the Pentagon, and subsequent reporting on what happened to Lynch which included the story about her firing her weapon until she no longer could were also the fault of the Pentagon which, critics claim, manufactured the story as propaganda in order to give America a hero they could get behind in the Iraq war.

The real truth is that, indeed, this story was propaganda created to give America a hero to get behind, but the group of people who pushed this myth were not the Pentagon, but the media, who thought they had a cute, blonde, female guns-a-blazin’ hero they could use as a symbol of how American women were ‘just as tough as men’ and therefore should have the right to be on the frontlines alongside male troops.

Ray Robison has detailed the initial reporting on Lynch’s capture, and points out how the media were cautioned by the Pentagon in the days of the initial reporting on what happened to Lynch that they could not verify the accuracy of the claims made about her firing her weapon before going down and being captured. Robison points to this piece from the WaPo, written after Lynch’s dramatic resuce, which proves that point (emphasis added):

Pfc. Jessica Lynch, rescued Tuesday from an Iraqi hospital, fought fiercely and shot several enemy soldiers after Iraqi forces ambushed the Army’s 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company, firing her weapon until she ran out of ammunition, U.S. officials said yesterday.

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 March 23, one official said. The ambush took place after a 507th convoy, supporting the advancing 3rd Infantry Division, took a wrong turn near the southern city of Nasiriyah.

“She was fighting to the death,” the official said. “She did not want to be taken alive.”


Several officials cautioned that the precise sequence of events is still being determined, and that further information will emerge as Lynch is debriefed. Reports thus far are based on battlefield intelligence, they said, which comes from monitored communications and from Iraqi sources in Nasiriyah whose reliability has yet to be assessed. Pentagon officials said they had heard “rumors” of Lynch’s heroics but had no confirmation.

Got that? You had some anonymous “US officials” claiming the firefight happened, and others – including Pengaton officials – urging caution because the reliability of the sources was questionable. As Robison points out, this was noted in the initial stories about Lynch’s capture, but the media ran with it and turned Lynch into the symbol of the American woman in the military. The WaPo’s ombudsman at the time wrote a piece three weeks after that story was written, after receiving letters of complaints from people sensing an agenda-driven story, essentially covering for and complimenting the two reporters who wrote the story that started the wave of follow-up stories which reported the same information: that Lynch went down fighting.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane and look at other military/Pentagon/Def. Dept. responses to questions about the initial Lynch story reported by the WaPo:

April 8, 2003 from Victoria Clarke, Assistant Secretary of Defense at that time:

Q: Torie, it would seem as though America has a new heroine, and yet it’s a little cloudy. The Washington Post, after PFC [Private First Class] Jessica Lynch was captured, did a story, as you know, saying that she killed a couple of her would-be captors in a firefight, she was wounded, she exhausted her ammunition before being taken.

But we’ve heard nothing definitive either from the military or from her, even though she’s recuperating. And there are lots of questions, such as, how did she get all these broken bones? Was she in fact shot? You know, what are the details of her capture? Why did her dogtag wind up in a political member of — political party Ba’ath headquarters? All these unanswered. When will we be able to hear her story? When will she meet with us?

CLARKE: Well, it’s really up to the doctors and the people who are giving her the appropriate care and treatment. That’s the number-one priority right now, is making sure she has the appropriate care and the appropriate time to recuperate. I’m sure, at the appropriate time, we’ll hear more about that story.

Q: Can you corroborate the Post story pretty much as they described it?

CLARKE: No, I can’t.

April 23, 2003, from Gen. McKiernan, commander, Third U.S. Army and U.S. Army Forces Central Command and the Coalition Forces Land Component Command:

Q: Sir, hi. This is Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg News. I have two separate questions. One, can you give us a reality check on what happened when Jessica Lynch was captured by the Iraqis? We don’t have a good sense of where the truth lies in terms of whether she almost fought to the death, emptied her pistol at Iraqi troops and was stabbed and had gunshot wounds.


McKiernan: Okay. To the first question, I cannot — I cannot answer that because I have not read, nor would I be able to read the — all the interviews and the reports from Private Lynch from the time she was taken as a POW. So I cannot comment on any of the specifics about that. All I can say is, like every other American, I’m just — I’m just pleased as hell that she’s back home and going to be safe.

They clearly couldn’t – and wouldn’t – confirm the WaPo story, but nevertheless the Accepted Truth is that it was the Pentagon’s fault there was so much misinformation in the media about exactly what happened when Lynch’s company was attacked by enemy forces.

This isn’t to say that American women who are in the military aren’t tough. And this isn’t to say that Lynch isn’t a hero because what was initially and repeatedly reported about what the alleged firefight wasn’t true afterall. But if the media is going to run with a story about a heroic woman who went down with guns blazing, they might want to (gasp!) wait and verify all the facts before making her their cause célèbre.

Even Lynch herself this week, in an interview with Newsweek, said she faulted the Pentagon for ‘not setting the record straight’ re: the stories that were continually coming out in the media about what supposedly happened before she was captured but faulted the media for spreading it and not seeking the facts:

Who is to blame for spreading the misinformation?
Well, I think really the military and the media. The military, for not setting the record straight and the media for spreading it, and not seeking the true facts. They just ran with it instead of waiting until the facts were straightened out.

Lynch also doesn’t believe the military exploited her:

Do you feel like you were exploited by the military?
No, I don’t. I felt sort of like that in the beginning, yes. But now, four years later, I don’t.

Just to emphasize, the people who exploited Jessica Lynch were the people who wanted a female military hero they could rally behind their liberal beliefs about women on the frontlines – in other words, the mainstream media. Once the story started to fall apart, that very same media, instead of doing a little self-examinination and realizing it was their fault, turned around and tried to blame the Pentagon for waging a ‘propaganda’ war via Lynch.

This really should come as little surprise to anyone, considering how the MSM isn’t particularly keen on self-examination and admitting fault.

But even though they won’t admit wrongdoing, the record needs to be corrected as to who did what regarding the reporting on the capture of Jessica Lynch and the rest of the 507th. Thanks to those dedicated to the truth – like Ray Robison – it has been. Not that the mediots will ever acknowledge it. They’re too busy in lynch-mob (no pun intended) mentality against the military to do so.

We’ve seen this lynch-mob mentality not just with the Lynch story, but with the Pat Tillman story, too, but the difference between the two is that it appears that Pat Tillman’s family – and America – did not get the truth about what really happened to him in Afghanistan, where he was killed in a friendly fire incident. The fact that he was killed by friendly fire does not make him any less of a hero, but the media has gleefully reported on the conflicting stories about what happened in the seconds before Tillman was killed, and how news of it was handled ‘in-house’ as if to suggest he wasn’t quite as heroic as he was initially made out to be because he didn’t die by the enemy’s hand. Make no mistake about it: Pat Tillman’s family deserves the truth (and honestly, I’m not sure they’ll believe anything the military tells them at this point), but at the same time the sacrifice that Tillman made should not be tarnished by the conflicting stories of what happened to him, how it was reported to higher-ups, etc.

Tillman and Lynch are both heroes in their own right: Tillman for signing up to serve his country when he stood to make millions from a football contract, and Lynch, who served her country honorably in her role with the 507th. Regardless of how the media spins stories on noteable troops who serve in the War on Terror, that is something that should never be forgotten.

Also blogging about this: Flopping Aces, Jeff Goldstein, Noisy Room, Dread Pundit Bluto, Little Green Footballs

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