Reports on Soldier's Capture Are Partly Discounted by Paper
June 18, 2003
The New York Times
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
The Washington Post, which in early April was the first news organizaton to publish reports that Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch heroically resisted her Iraqi captors, yesterday published a lengthy investigation discrediting some of those initial reports, including its exclusive report that she fired back at her attackers.
The account, published on April 3 under the headline "She Was Fighting to the Death; Details Emerging of W.Va. Soldier's Capture and Rescue," was widely repeated in other news reports, and helped make her story an inspirational touchstone for American support for the war. But subsequent reports by The Post and other news organizations have cast doubt on several aspects of the initial portrayals of her story, raising questions about whether the United States military manipulated the episode for propaganda purposes and about whether American news organizations were seduced by a gripping, patriotic tale.
Yesterday's front-page article in The Post found that "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."
"Lynch tried to fire her weapon," the article said later, "but it jammed, according to military officials familiar with the Army investigation. She did not kill any Iraqis. She was neither shot nor stabbed, they said."
Steve Coll, managing editor of The Post, said in a telephone interview yesterday that the paper was still pleased with its article on April 3, saying it was good reporting done within days of her rescue. He noted that, among other things, the article in The Post yesterday provided some details of the flow of early intelligence reports that matched the paper's earlier account, which was written by two Washington reporters, Susan Schmidt and Vernon Loeb, and which relied on unnamed government officials. "I think the story today makes clear that there was a reportorial basis for the earlier story," he said.
Michael Getler, The Post's ombudsman _ a columnist charged with examining the paper's own coverage _ noted in a column on April 20 that the article on the Lynch capture waited until the fourth paragraph to raise cautions about the preliminary nature of what it called "battlefield intelligence." Mr. Getler wrote that one reader called it "a sensationalistic story riddled with inaccuracies" and another wrote, Reports on Soldier's Capture Ar.ems "I smell an agenda."
In a telephone interview yesterday, Mr. Getler said: "Those first several paragraphs were written in a very hard fashion and the rest of the story made it clear that those sources were less than firsthand. I thought the story was overwritten to begin with, whether it was true or not." He added, "It was at a crucial point in the war and my instinct at the moment was to be very skeptical. It had a strong propagandistic twinge to it."
Mr. Coll, the managing editor, said yesterday's article was part of its continuing coverage of Private Lynch. "I think we have added fresh material to the record today to allow other journalists to keep probing," including continuing to question whether United States officials may have given out selective or misleading intelligence reports.
Initial accounts of Private Lynch's capture and rescue that appeared in The Post and elsewhere have been challenged in several ways. United States military officials at first told journalists that she had received gunshot wounds and that she was rescued after a firefight. And an Iraqi lawyer who helped her rescuers told journalists he saw her slapped by one of her captors.
Subsequent reports have indicated that she was not shot and that all the Iraqi soldiers had fled by the time American soldiers arrived.
Yesterday in The Post, an Iraqi doctor who worked at the hospital called the account of the slap "some Hollywood crap you would tell the Americans."
Yesterday, Mark Danner, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley's graduate school of journalism, said the revisions to Private Lynch's story matched the debate about Iraq's missing banned weapons. "Her story was symbolic of support for the war as it was being fought, and now it is symbolic of our second thoughts about the war," Professor Danner said.
Original URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/18/politics/18PAPE.html
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