The Propaganda of the Jessica Lynch story
By Jason Hardy Monday, November 10, 2003
The Story at the source can no longer be found. Even the reporter seems to have been sanitized. However, the source he quotes is still online. Credit is given to Mr. Hardy where ever he is!
Private Jessica Lynch has quite a tale. Even more interesting than the tale itself is the story of how it has been told.
Originally broadcast in the United States amid otherwise damaging news of the U.S. government’s mishandling of the destruction of Iraq, Jessica’s tale supplied American hearts and minds with an icon, heroes and hope. Since then, however, we have learned that what the U.S. audience was told of Jessica’s experience is, as the BBC states, “one of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived.” What the U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar, told reporters at the time of Jessica’s “rescue” was a Hollywood story-complete with techniques advised by Jerry Bruckheimer.
Why make this claim? The reason is that I’m just tired of being lied to by my government. It’s akin to the sentiment expressed by retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner regarding Jessica’s story, who said, “As a military guy, that’s sort of what violates my integrity: I don’t accept sending American men and women to war using political spin techniques.”
Much of the Jessica Lynch story is true. The soldiers did fall into an ambush and 11 of Lynch’s comrades died. But that she “continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds,” that she was later stabbed or that she killed several Iraqis during the battle (The Washington Post, April 4)? This is all very dramatic, but unfounded and false. Dr. Harith al-Houssona, who saved Lynch’s life while at al-Nasiriyah General Hospital, concluded: “There was no [sign of] shooting, no bullet inside her body, no stab wound-only road traffic accident.” This was later confirmed by U.S. Col. David Rubenstein at Landstuhl Hospital in Germany.
So where did The Washington Post get its story? A Pentagon source revealed this information to the Post from a communication intercepted in Iraq, but it turns out that the intercept really regarded a sergeant, not Lynch. Why is this so interesting? Later that day (Apr. 3), Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld held a press conference where he refused to correct the misinformation, allowing the story to perpetuate.
After a week of the best care available, Dr. Harith was told by Iraqi intelligence operatives that once Jessica’s condition stabilized, she would be taken to Baghdad. Concerned for her safety, Dr. Harith arranged to deliver her to a U.S. checkpoint at the edge of town. As the ambulance carrying Jessica came to within about 1,000 feet of the checkpoint, the U.S. troops opened fire, despite the flashing lights. Unhurt, the ambulance returned to the hospital.
The very next day, after all of the Fedayeen and other Iraqi troops had fled the city, U.S. troops staged their “heroic rescue.” The hospital was bombarded with American soldiers, helicopters and tanks. They were shouting “Go! Go! Go! Go!” and “Get down! Get down!” and shooting “blanks” from their guns. The techniques (not limited to just “battleground” technology) were truly Hollywood.
U.S. agents filmed this event, edited it and released it to the media. Upon release, Gen. Vincent Brooks, U.S. spokesman in Doha, said: “Some brave souls put their lives on the line to make this happen.” The problem is that General Brooks’ statement just isn’t true-there were no Iraqi troops anywhere near the hospital. “It was like a Hollywood film,” Dr. Ammar Uday said. “They made a show for the American attack on the hospital.” (BBC)
Another inaccuracy in the telling of the story comes from Mohammed Odeh al Rehaief, widely reported to have tipped off U.S. Marines to Jessica’s location. He claims to have seen hospital staff slapping Jessica, but as she told Sawyer, “No one beat me, no one slapped me, no one, nothing.” But al-Rehaief’s role doesn’t end with alleged slapping or the “rescue.” He, with some friends, is telling a story.
Immediately following Jessica’s “rescue,” al Rehaief and his family were granted U.S. asylum, given a job at the high-powered D.C. lobby firm the Livingston Group, and almost as quickly received $300,000 from Rupert Murdoch’s (owner of Fox News) Harper Collins, for writing a book titled, Because Each Life is Precious: Why an Iraqi Man Came to Risk Everything for Pvt. Jessica Lynch. It gets better.
One of al-Rehaief’s colleagues at the Livingston Group, Lauri Fitz-Pegado, is promoting the novel. Fitz Pegado gained fame during the first U.S. invasion of Iraq.
In 1990, Fitz-Pegado worked for the powerful PR firm Hill & Knowlton, at which time she coached “Nayirah,” the Kuwaiti girl who claimed to have seen Iraqi soldiers pulling infants from incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital. The story “Nayirah” put out was so successful, in fact, that she was asked to testify before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus (Oct. 10, 1990), and her story was repeatedly cited by members of Congress and constantly referred to in the corporate media for months.
The problem is that “Nayirah” lied. The story was a complete fabrication created by Hill & Knowlton (which was paid more than $10 million by the Kuwaiti government). “Nayirah,” it turns out, was the Kuwaiti ambassador’s daughter and had never left Washington.
To me, the biggest oddity is not the misinformation, but that Fitz-Pegado, vice president of Hill & Knowlton at the time, has since had a very successful PR campaign. Now working for the Livingston Group, she is again selling war on Iraq to the American people. She seems an odd choice to promote the first book on Jessica’s story.
Indiana University Cultural Communications Professor Robert Ivie says of the entire Lynch affair, “I recognized the pattern. [Lynch] stood for the narrative that the Bush administration was telling.” It’s unfortunate that the U.S. government feels compelled to mislead the American people in strategic, misinformation campaigns headed by PR giants. It’s unfortunate that their true motives are secret, their campaigns contradict the interest of the American people and that the narratives they construct depart so significantly from reality. In an interview with Diane Sawyer, Lynch said it bothered her that “They used me as a way to symbolize all this stuff. I mean, yeah, it’s wrong.”