Jessica Lynch: From hero, to whistle-blower, to celebrity

Toronto Star
Jessica Lynch: From hero, to whistle-blower, to celebrity
Mon Nov 17 01:01:08 2003

Toronto Star
November 16, 2003

From hero, to whistle-blower, to celebrity

Jessica Lynch's Story is Turning 'Into a Monster' for the Bush Administration


Pity the poor PR boys at the Pentagon. It may be hard, but try.

They thought they had it made:

A pretty, blonde soldier ambushed by the Iraqis,
courageously firing until her ammo runs out, shot
and stabbed and carried off by the enemy who,
after taking time out to rape her, deposit her
unconscious body in a hospital, where she is
slapped around by evil medical staff, then, nine
days later, is rescued in a daring, nighttime
raid that is videotaped and can be shown
repeatedly around the world and who, as soon as
she recovers, will tell what it's like to be an
all-American hero. It was a gift from the
propaganda gods.

Just two problems: It didn't happen that way, and
the designated hero, Private Jessica Lynch,
refuses to say it did.

In fact, Lynch is telling anyone who asks that
she is no hero: "That wasn't me. I'm not about to
take credit for something I didn't do ... I'm
just a survivor."

Okay so far, modesty and all.

But Lynch is also a mite angry about the
Pentagon's manipulation of events and can't seem
to stop correcting the record.

She says she never got off a shot because her gun
jammed. The Iraqi medical staff were kindness
itself. She was out cold for three hours after
her Humvee crashed in the grenade attack, so she
doesn't remember any sexual assault. And shocked
Iraqi doctors deny it.

As for the dramatic, Rambo-style hospital raid on
April 1, she says there was no resistance, no
Iraqi military in the hospital, and staff even
offered the rescuers a key.

The Pentagon "used me to symbolize all this
stuff," Lynch told a fawning Diane Sawyer on ABC
last week. "It's wrong."

Yikes. Time for Plan B: It isn't our fault.

A senior military official tells Time magazine
that, contrary to appearances, the Saving Private
Lynch story was not, no way, a calculated PR
ploy, but more a "comedy of errors," based on
patchy battlefield intelligence. The media just
ran with it.

What the Lynch story actually is, say critics, is
a star-spangled metaphor for the confusion and
deceit that's marked the Iraq foray from the

"This White House believes they can spin their
way out of anything and they assume reality will
surrender to their spin," says Mark Crispin
Miller, a media analyst at New York University.

"In this case, they believed Jessica would play
along. But she hasn't. She may not appear
self-assertive, but she can clearly tell illusion
from reality. Good for her."

What irks him and other analysts is how the
American media went along with the fraud for so

The Toronto Star's Mitch Potter was one of the
first to report the actual facts of the rescue on
May 4. The BBC followed up on May 15. But those
stories got no traction in the U.S., says Miller.
"The media here should have exposed the lie long
before they did."

Indeed, the Washington Post - which ran the first
story, on April 3, of Lynch fighting until her
last bullet, while 11 of her colleagues lay dead
on the ground - took until mid-June to print an
accurate version, whereupon its ombudsman dryly
noted that the tale "didn't get knocked down
until it didn't matter so much anymore."

But true or not, the air dates have been booked
and The Jessica Show must go on.

Walking with crutches and still undergoing two
hours of physiotherapy a day for her shattered
legs, Lynch, barely 20, has contractual
commitments to promote her newly released
biography, I'm a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch
Story, and there's no backing out.

The book was written by Rick Bragg, the former
New York Times reporter who resigned this spring
after a brouhaha over his failure to credit a
freelance journalist. Bragg and Lynch split the
million-dollar advance.

Last week, Lynch appeared with Sawyer and got a
standing ovation on The David Letterman Show;
tomorrow night, it's the inevitable Larry King.

By then, she will have completed her warp-speed
transformation from war hero to whistle-blower to
innocent pawn to ... what? Pop celebrity? Or
scapegoat for Americans' growing anger over the
handling of post-war Iraq?

If her head is spinning, think what's happening in the Pentagon PR office.

"They learned the wrong lessons from Vietnam and
still think lying to the public is the best
course," says Vince Carlin, former head of CBC

As for Lynch, born and bred in Palestine, W. Va.,
pop. 900: "She was an ordinary person placed in a
situation she didn't anticipate and now her life
is playing out in the media," he says.

"She's not a hero, but a `war celebrity.' The
truth rarely has anything to do with celebrity."

Resentment, however, often does.

Critics are pointedly asking why the other
surviving woman in Lynch's convoy, Army
Specialist Shoshanna Johnson, also injured and
taken prisoner, is set to receive only a 30 per
cent disability benefit, while Lynch gets 80 per
cent - a difference of $700 a month. Anything to
do with Johnson being black?

Her parents, among others, think so and are
enlisting perennial activist Jesse Jackson to
stir up the waters on the double standard.

Then, there are the veterans. Many of them are
furious that, despite the now-known facts of her
capture, Lynch still was awarded a Bronze Star
for bravery, along with a Purple Heart for being
injured and a PoW medal on her discharge from the
army in August.

It's been deemed an "insult to the sacred awards
system," and some are threatening to return their
own medals.

Other vets are claiming military "feminists"
cooked up the entire story. "Trust me, the troops
- past and present - are unhappy," the outspoken
war critic Col. David Hackworth wrote last week.

"Jessica was used right from the first to sell
the war to the American people and to encourage
their daughters to join up and be heroes."

Hard to imagine how Lynch's experiences in Iraq
would set off a female rush to the enlistment
office. If anything, say analysts, they'll
reignite the slumbering hostility to the use of
women in combat zones.

The more organized veterans groups, meanwhile,
are outraged that while Lynch is everywhere in
the media, there is little coverage of the
wounded, maimed and dead of Iraq.

They hugely resent the White House's
good-news-only policy that prohibits pictures of
flag-draped coffins or returning soldiers missing
their arms and legs, says Seth Pollack, executive
director of Veterans for Common Sense.

"Am I angry about the amount of coverage she's
received rather than the soldiers who've come
home and aren't getting proper medical support?
Yes," he says.

"We're focused on Iraq and how we get out of this
mess. Nothing against Jessica. She's a victim of
circumstance, used by the Pentagon and used by
the media machine."

Not to mention some of her old basic-training
buddies back at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Just before Lynch's public unveiling last week,
word came that they'd sold photos of her
frolicking nude in the barracks to Larry Flynt.
He insists he has no intention of running them in
his Hustler magazine.

"They wanted it known she's not all apple pie,"
said Flynt. This offended him because "she's a
good kid who is very much a pawn for the

Lynch must be wondering what's hit her.

All she wants is to walk unaided down the aisle
next June when she marries her fiancÚ, Sgt. Ruben
Contreras. The two met at the Taco Bell at Fort
Bliss, back when she - not the Pentagon, not the
media, not critics of the war - was in control of
her own life.

Will she remain an enduring image?

"No," says Miller. "They'll have dropped her by Christmas."

Indeed, the Daily Telegraph reported last week
that senior administration officials now regard
the episode as an embarrassment they wish would
go away.

"The Saving Private Lynch story," one bleakly said, "is becoming a monster."

Tell it to Jessica.

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