"Let's Clear the Fog of War," suggested Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Timothy Egan in a recent blog post for the New York Times. Egan criticized the White House's decision to simply stop talking about what happened at the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed on Sunday night. "They owe us a complete story, an honesty story, one for the record," Egan wrote.
But in calling for truth, Egan, whether he realized it or not, perpetuated a falsehood concerning the Iraq war that those who opposed that war continue to invoke in support of the narrative that the war effort itself was premised on a falsehood.
Egan made his opposition to the effort in Iraq clear in labeling it "a disastrous and bankrupting war against a country that had nothing to do with the mass homicide on American soil." He went on to offer the tale of Pfc. Jessica Lynch as "emblematic of the whole phony campaign at the top. If the White House was willing to go to war on false pretenses, why shouldn’t low-level commanders follow suit on the ground?"
In pushing this revisionist take on the Lynch ordeal, Egan himself reinforced a false - and political - narrative about events in Iraq that undercuts the very clarity of events he wishes to see the White House embrace and promote.
Lynch was, you'll remember, the 19-year-old Army private who was knocked unconscious behind enemy lines in 2003, and rescued nine days later. Her story was inflated and exaggerated until it became the tale of “the little girl Rambo from the hills of West Virginia who went down fighting," as Egan quotes Lynch as saying.
But it was not the military that pushed the "Rambo" narrative, it was, initially, the Washington Post, as veteran journalist W. Joseph Campbell reminded readers in a recent post:
In reality, the Pentagon treated the Lynch hero-warrior tale as if it were radioactive. The Post’s sensational story about Lynch, which was published April 3, 2003, indicated as much, referring to “Pentagon officials” as saying “they had heard ‘rumors’ of Lynch’s heroics but had had no confirmation.”
One of the Post reporters whose byline appeared on that story has stated unequivocally the Pentagon was not the newspaper’s source for the account of Lynch’s supposed derring-do.
“Our sources for that story were not Pentagon sources,” the reporter, Vernon Loeb, said in an interview on National Public Radio in late 2003.
Loeb, who then was the Post’s defense correspondent and now is the newspaper’s top editor for local news, also said in the NPR interview:
“I just didn’t see the Pentagon trying to create a hero where there was none. I mean …they never showed any interest in doing that, to me.”
Campbell also notes that ultra-liberal filmmaker Michael Moore has been busy pushing the false narrative that the Bush White House sold WaPo on the story for political purposes. But Moore is no journalist, and his disregard for the truth is nothing new. He has been complicit in the creation of a number of dubious smears against Bush and other Republicans.
But Egan and other reporters, who profess reverence for truth-telling and journalistic integrity, have, regrettably, also pushed this false narrative with respect to Pfc. Lynch. Campbell pointed out a couple other examples just from the last few days - one from the Associated Press and one from the UK Guardian - and observed:
As I note in Getting It Wrong, making up the hero-warrior story to boost support for the conflict would have been nonsense: At the time, Americans in overwhelming numbers said they backed the war in Iraq.
It’s quite remarkable indeed how the singular role of the Post in reporting and spreading the bogus story about Lynch has receded so thoroughly in favor of the false narrative that blames the Pentagon for having made it all up.
It is similarly remarkable to see reporters stress the importance of factual accuracy in wartime, and reinforce their case with inaccurate claims used to attack those prosecuting the war effort. Journalists themselves created the false Lynch narrative, and to this day journalists are reinforcing it.
Egan wants a "complete" and "honest" story from the White House. He should extend his readers the same courtesy.