Perhaps the best known American military figure to come out of the Iraq war, eclipsing even Tommy Franks, the general who won it, is 20-year-old Pfc. Jessica Lynch.
Although she has said nothing in public and has been seen in public only briefly on a stretcher, Lynch has unwittingly become a pivotal media phenomenon. She has figured in any number of media controversies, unlike Woody Allen’s Zelig, without ever being present at any of them.
It began with her capture on March 23, when she was badly injured in the ambush of her convoy and taken captive. Initial accounts, most notably in The Washington Post, had her fiercely fighting back, despite being stabbed and shot, killing several Iraqi soldiers.
Much of this turned out to be either untrue or highly exaggerated, and, last Tuesday, the Post devoted a front-page story and two full pages inside to sorting out what did happen, which was harrowing enough.
On April 1, a U.S. commando unit rescued her from an Iraqi hospital. Even that became the subject of controversy when critics, especially in the foreign media, accused the administration and military of staging the raid to boost public morale at a time the war seemed to be going badly.
Once stabilized and back in the United States, Lynch became, and remains, the target of intense maneuvering by TV news operations for the first interview.
The public got a rare glimpse into the hyper-competitive world of the TV “get” when The New York Times got hold of a letter from a senior CBS News executive dangling in front of Lynch in exchange for an interview: a two-hour documentary, a made-for-TV movie, a book deal, an MTV special, the opportunity to host an MTV2 show and a concert in her hometown. The implication was that CBS might have crossed some sort of ethical line.
CBS shot back that the Times, with “its own ethical problems,” meaning the Jayson Blair scandal, was a fine one to be talking about ethics. As it happened, one of Blair’s bogus stories at the Times was a piece about Lynch’s home in Palestine, W.Va., with fake interviews with her parents and colorful detail about nonexistent tobacco fields.
How much Lynch herself knows about all this is the real mystery. She was unconscious for part of her saga and has been held incommunicado by the Army for the rest.
She has been recuperating under armed guard at Walter Reed Army hospital in Washington and even does her rehabilitation therapy privately and separately from other patients. She has her family for company and continues to receive media offers by the tub load, according to a spokesman.
Jessica Lynch might not leave much of a mark in military history, but she seems guaranteed of a place in the annals of journalism.
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