Thursday, July 24, 2003

A West Virginia newspaper reporter yesterday accused Reuters, the British news service, of putting her byline on a story about the homecoming of Pfc. Jessica Lynch that she didn’t write.

The reporter became an object of scorn by talk-radio hosts when the Reuters dispatch appeared, and she wrote a column yesterday for her newspaper explaining that the story was not hers. The controversy is particularly acute in the West Virginia hills, where Pfc. Lynch, from the tiny town of Palestine, is a very special heroine.

Deanna Wrenn of the Charleston Daily Mail filed her story last week, at the request of Reuters, about plans for the homecoming of Pfc. Lynch, whose capture and rescue made her the most famous American soldier in the Iraq war, but when it appeared on the Reuters wire, she hardly recognized it.

Ms. Wrenn wrote about her experience with big-city journalism yesterday:

“This is from a story that Reuters news service ran this week with my byline:

“‘Jessica Lynch, the wounded Army private whose ordeal in Iraq was hyped into a media fiction of U.S. heroism, was set for an emotional homecoming on Tuesday. … Media critics say the TV cameras will not show the return of an injured soldier so much as a reality-TV drama co-produced by the U.S. government propaganda and credulous reporters.’

“Got problems with that?

“I do, especially since I didn’t write it.

“Here’s what I sent last week to Reuters, a British news agency that compiles news reports from all over the world: ‘ELIZABETH [W. Va.] — In this small county seat with just 995 residents, the girl everyone calls Jessi is a true heroine — even if reports vary about Pfc. Jessica Lynch and her ordeal in Iraq.’”

Ms. Wrenn wrote that Reuters used only a single quote from her original article.

“Apparently, when Reuters asked me last week if they could use my byline, they weren’t talking about the story I wrote for them last week. They were talking about a story I never wrote.”

“I’m not sure what reporter or editor actually wrote the story that has my byline attached. … I would like to make it abundantly clear that somebody at Reuters wrote the story, not me.”

Radio talk-show hosts and their listeners directed their anger over the Reuters article toward Ms. Wrenn.

“When I got to work Wednesday, e-mail messages were flooding my inbox calling me everything but Peter Arnett,” she wrote, referring to the former TV reporter who was fired after giving an interview to Iraqi state TV. She declined yesterday to say anything beyond what she wrote for her newspaper.

“I just wanted to make the point to the people [in Pfc. Lynchs hometown] about the story,” Ms. Wrenn said.

Reuters defended its coverage yesterday after Ms. Wrenn’s account appeared on the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal Web site.

“We always reserve the right to temper a story with copy from both sides of an issue to better service our global readership,” Reuters said. “The advance story focused on the media controversy that has ensued since the rescue first took place. … We feel strongly that our coverage of Private Lynch’s return presents both sides of the issue fairly.”

Reuters also said that “the controversy surrounding Private Jessica Lynch’s capture and rescue is a story of global importance.”

“The overnight advance story we carried was based on copy sent to us by Ms. Wrenn, who was working as a free-lancer for us at the time, and was supplemented by additional copy and editing from others Reuters staffers.”

That’s not how it looked from West Virginia.

“Apparently, when Reuters asked me last week if they could use my byline,” Ms. Wrenn wrote, “they weren’t talking about the story I wrote for them last week. They were talking about a story I never wrote. By the way, I asked Reuters to remove my byline. They didn’t.”

Wire services, like newspapers, routinely edit dispatches filed by stringers, often extensively. Newspapers similarly edit dispatches filed by wire services, usually to include additional information or context. But care is taken not to change the meaning of the original dispatches.

Reuters’ coverage of the war has been criticized as biased against the coalition effort in Iraq, and particularly against President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain.

“I may not be a member of the world’s largest multimedia news agency,” Ms. Wrenn wrote. “But I learned at West Virginia University how to report fairly, which is what I thought I was doing for Reuters last week.”

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