- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2003

The Washington Post has backed off its initial portrayal of U.S. Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch as a young warrior, an account that made her an instant national hero and sparked a brawl between news organizations and Hollywood for her exclusive story — be it myth, or truth.

“We consider this an enterprise story, part of our ongoing coverage of Pvt. Lynch,” said Post Managing Editor Steve Coll yesterday.

“But we also wanted to make clear that the reinvestigation adds new details and a clarification to earlier reporting,” Mr. Coll said.

Yesterday, The Post ran a massive front-page story that revisited the March 23 ambush of Pvt. Lynch’s convoy, which killed nine American soldiers. The paper’s April 3 account, based on unnamed sources, described a wounded Pvt. Lynch firing her last bullets at Iraqi attackers as her comrades fell around her. The story fixated public and news media alike.

Yesterday’s amended version, featured in the 12th paragraph, was more sedate.

“Lynch tried to fire her weapon, but it jammed, according to military officials familiar with the Army investigation. She did not kill any Iraqis. She was neither shot nor stabbed,” the story states.

“There is a natural path in war reporting. When a war is going hot and heavy, we get the first draft. When it’s over, the revisionism kicks in,” said Tim Graham of the Media Research Center yesterday.

“We’re now in the post-Jayson Blair era. If there are reader complaints on a story, if there are changes to be made, the response must be huge,” said Robert Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Affairs.

“The story doesn’t just take a second look. It walks the reader through the journalism itself, explaining the conclusions. It’s transparent. It’s a message to the news media as well as the reader, and it’s the opposite of Howell Raines bunker mentality,” Mr. Lichter said.

“What bothered me is that The Post led their story yesterday with the myth. They wait to make their major points later on, and there is a certain level of defensiveness in the writing,” observed the MRC’s Mr. Graham.

“They’re still trying to assert their beachhead here,” he continued. “If you had a scoop and blew it, you get reporters on the story and do it again, and you do it right. I found that part of it laudable. But what about the male POWs? Where were they?”

Stories on women soldiers become political footballs, Mr. Graham said. “And if she was fighting the good fight, it becomes a fantastic ad for women in combat.”

Indeed, this issue emerged in an April 20 column by Post ombudsman Michael Getler, who noted that one irate reader wrote to complain, “I smell an agenda” and that the true events of the ambush was “still not clear.”

The Post was upfront about its own limitations yesterday.

“Lynch’s story is far more complex and different than those initial reports. Much of the story remains shrouded in mystery, in large part because of official Army secrecy, concerns for Lynch’s privacy and her limited memory.”

The paper acknowledges its initial coverage “attracted widespread criticism” because of the use of unnamed sources and the lack of corroboration from military officials.

“In an effort to document more fully what had actually happened to Lynch, The Post interviewed dozens of people,” the paper stated, later concluding, “the result is a second, more thorough but inconclusive cut at history.”

The Post isn’t alone in its zeal to produce the consummate Pvt. Lynch story.

Yesterday, ABC News correspondent Howard Rosenberg offered “Bloody Sunday: The Real Story of What Happened to Jessica Lynch’s Convoy” at the network’s Web site (www.abcnews.com). The story claims to offer new details about the ambush, based on a “still classified U.S. Army report” that the convoy was sent in the wrong direction.

Contact Jennifer Harper at jharper@washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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