WaPo still stands by fabricated Jessica Lynch story

American University professor Joseph Campbell continues to fight his lonely fight to make a couple of reporters at the Washington Post, and/or their editors, come clean. He’s been fighting for nine years, since the Post ran a fabricated story about US Army maintenance-unit soldier PFC Jessica Lynch. Campbell:

Nine years on, it’s time for the Post to disclose just who it was that led it astray. It’s time to reveal the sources on the bogus story about Lynch.

via Why WaPo should reveal sources on bogus Jessica Lynch tale « Media Myth Alert.

Personally, we do not believe Campbell will have any success. He thinks he will because he believes the reporters that they were misled by a dishonest source  (whose identity they continue to protect, and whose fabricated “scoops” they still use?). We think he will not because we believe that it was the Post reporters (Susan Schmidt, Vernon Loeb, and Dana Priest) who fabricated the story. They can’t name their source because there is no source.

Let’s let Campbell set the stage a bit.

Today is the ninth anniversary of the Washington Post‘s stunningly wrong hero-warrior tale about Jessica Lynch, a botched report published on its front page beneath the headline:

“She was fighting to the death“

Lynch, then a 19-year-old Army supply clerk, had fought fiercely in the attack of her unit in Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq, according to the Post, which cited anonymous “U.S. officials” as its sources.

One of them told the Post that Lynch had suffered gunshot and stab wounds “and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her” in the ambush March 23, 2003.

It was electrifying stuff and the Post’s report was picked up by news organizations around the world.

But it was wrong in all important details. Lynch was neither shot nor stabbed. She did not fire a shot in the ambush….

Take the time and read the whole thing. If nothing else, you’ll understand Professor Campbell’s lonely crusade for the truth about this miserable story that continues to influence people, despite being, as he puts it, “wrong in all important details.”

Here’s another paper’s edit of the story; the Post’s own has been shuffled off in shame, rather than openly corrected.

Note that, in Jayson Blair style, the small army of Post reporters didn’t get a single person on record: the sourcing consists of anonymous (nonexiststent?) “officials” and “officers,” and details lifted from various TV reports and other journalists who were, unlike the Post reporters 8,000 miles away, downrange.

Loeb has since admitted that no Pentagon or DOD sources were used for the story, which makes the attributions (“officers?”) doubly suspicious. Meanwhile, Dana Priest, one of the other reporters, insists that the Army fabricated the story, but refuses to name who in the Army.

Priest has a history of military reporting… about like Jayson Blair’s and Stephen Glass’s history of reporting, period. She was telling Amazon Woman tales — which were bogus — a decade before Lynch. We have always suspected that it was Dana Priest that fabricated that tale, and then made up a nonexistent source. Priest, of course, has gone on to a Pulitzer (which would impress anyone who doesn’t know the history of the prize… it means she’s on an ethical par with Walter Duranty). She has a major rice bowl to protect. She will never give up her source.

She can’t. There is no source.

But the Post still stands behind her, Schmidt, and Loeb for one of the most lasting fabrications in the history of the press — yellow or otherwise. This irritates Professor Campbell, because, bless him, he thinks that should do better. We have learned not to expect honesty from the media, so the only surprise here is that a full Professor of Communications continues his lonely, and so far fruitless, pursuit of the truth.

Professor Campbell’s book Getting it Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism, published in 2010, has much more information on the Lynch story, and several other persistent media myths. His blog Media Myth Alert provides regular updates on these stories, and provocative analysis of new and emerging media myths. (We’d also recommend Stolen Valor by Burkett and Whitley and The Big Story by Braestrup for isights to Vietnam media myths in particular).

The truth is somewhere between Campbell’s idealistic hope that the news media will suddenly start Getting it Right, and our cynical belief that you can tell they’re lying: when their lips are moving.