Rep. Henry Waxman is spending a lot of time trying to make it appear the White House was dishonest in describing Army Spec. Pat Tillman as a hero after his April 22, 2004, death by friendly fire.
Good luck, Congressman Waxman. The fact is Tillman was a hero. He unselfishly left a multimillion-dollar football contract to take on freedom’s enemies in Afghanistan. The White House never built him up any bigger than he was, never had to. A few embarrassed Army officers tried to cover up the fact he was killed accidentally by fellow U.S. soldiers, but after an Army inquiry, the truth was out within five weeks of his death.
Now Waxman is demanding the White House give up internal documents in hopes of finding something dirty on the handling of Tillman’s case, as if finding dirt there would bring Tillman back to life, as if finding dirt there would honor Tillman’s sacrifice. Or is it really Waxman’s intention to dishonor Tillman’s sacrifice?
The Jessica Lynch story. At a hearing before Waxman’s House Oversight Committee on April 24 this year, the Democratic congressman also did all he could to imply dishonestly that the White House or the Pentagon pushed a false story about the March 23, 2003, capture in Iraq of Pvt. Jessica Lynch.
The fictitious story was that, as Lynch was taken prisoner by enemy Iraqis, she was shot and stabbed, yet fired back “fighting to the death.”
It takes no more than an hour of research to find out that the colorful “fighting to the death” account did not come from an official White House or Pentagon announcement. It came from sloppy reporting by The Washington Post.
The Post’s one ‘official.’ The “fighting to the death” description came from one unnamed “official” in an April 3, 2003, Washington Post story, by Susan Schmidt and Vernon Loeb, in which “several” other “officials” cautioned that the facts weren’t yet known, and “Pentagon officials” said reports of Lynch’s gun-firing heroics were only “rumors.”
All of that -- the incorrect, but oh-so-quotable report by one “official” and the warnings by many officials that the report could be rumor or simply wrong -- was in Schmidt and Loeb’s first story on Jessica Lynch.
And guess which part of that Washington Post story was picked up by wire services and TV outlets, and repeated thousands of times around the world? Going for the easy, sensational angle, the press described the “fighting to the death” story as the “official” story.
‘Rumors,’ no confirmantion. Here’s what Schmidt and Loeb said in their April 3, 2003, report:
Lynch, a 19-year-old supply clerk, continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her in fighting March 23, one official said. The ambush took place after a 507th convoy, supporting the advancing 3rd Infantry Division, took a wrong turn near the southern city of Nasiriyah.
“She was fighting to the death,” the official said. “She did not want to be taken alive.”
Lynch was also stabbed when Iraqi forces closed in on her position, the official said, noting that initial intelligence reports indicated that she had been stabbed to death. No official gave any indication yesterday, however, that Lynch’s wounds had been life-threatening.
Several officials cautioned that the precise sequence of events is still being determined, and that further information will emerge as Lynch is debriefed. Reports thus far are based on battlefield intelligence, they said, which comes from monitored communications and from Iraqi sources in Nasiriyah whose reliability has yet to be assessed. Pentagon officials said they had heard “rumors” of Lynch’s heroics but had no confirmation.
Truth in one day. The story was “official,” only in the sense that one official -- out of tens of thousands of Washington officials -- told the story anonymously to The Post.
Within one day, The Post had information from a military hospital in Germany and from Lynch’s father, Greg Lynch Sr., that Jessica Lynch had not been shot or stabbed. She had been injured when her humvee crashed in the ambush at Nasiriyah.
Yet, as The Washington Post watched almost every other news outlet repeat its false story, its editors and reporters did not rush to retract its original headline, “She was fighting to the death,” or to warn the other news media that the thrust of the first story probably was wrong.
Two-month cover-up. The Post did not tell us who the official with the “fighting to the death” words was (though Post reporter Dana Priest later described “the official” as “sources” who had access to raw intelligence coming out of Iraq). The Post did not go back to the “official” to get his explanation for getting the story so wrong.
For two months, The Washington Post let the story lie.
Meanwhile, for some untold reason, The Post let the rest of the news media and the anti-liberation Democrats accuse the White House and the Pentagon of pushing an untrue story of Lynch’s capture.
Hoping others don’t notice. The Post made half-hearted attempts to correct its wrong. On May 23, 2003, Post columnist Richard Cohen mentioned the controversy on the screw-up, but insisted the newspaper’s journalists try to tell “The Truth.”
“Often we succeed,” Cohen said. “When we don’t, we don’t want anyone to notice.”
The Post’s ombudsman Michael Getler on May 25, 2003, called for a better, authoritative news report on Lynch's capture, “if there is a different version.” Finally, on June 17, 2003, The Post did correct its original story with a 5,000-word report. However, the paper still avoided explaining why it didn’t confront its errors earlier. Embarrassed? The Post didn’t want anyone to notice?
Blame to Bush. The Post got the story wrong, allowed others to repeat it, and then allowed innocent parties to take the blame for its errors, to the point where conventional thinking today views the Lynch fiasco as a Bush administration scandal.
Clear that up, Congressman Waxman. Let Washington Post reporters Susan Schmidt and Vernon Loeb explain how almost all of their White House and Pentagon sources told them the Lynch-firing-back story was rumor, and how only one “official” ran off at the mouth with the fairy tale.
Ask Schmidt and Loeb to name that source. Ask them whether they thought that single source was trying to plant a false story, whether he probably was sincere, whether they had a feeling he didn’t know what he was talking about, and whether he himself warned them the story hadn’t been confirmed. Ask them what they did -- and what they never did -- to correct the false story.
Why did ‘they’ lie? Ask Schmidt and Loeb what they thought when Jessica Lynch testified April 24, 2007, to the House Oversight Committee that, after her April 1, 2003, rescue in Iraq:
“[T]ales of great heroism were being told. My parents’ home in Wirt County [West Virginia] was under siege by the media all repeating the story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting.
“It was not true.
“I have repeatedly said, when asked, that if the stories about me helped inspire our troops and rally a nation, then perhaps there was some good. However, I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were, in fact, legendary.”
No sense of responsibility? Did Schmidt and Loeb wonder whom Lynch was accusing when she said “They chose to lie”? Didn’t they feel some guilt that, while they were the ones who allowed a false story to fly out of control, other people were taking the blame?
Many Americans now believe President Bush lied about Lynch and Tillman. The common “story” now is that Bush was so desperate to generate support for liberating Iraq and Afghanistan that he exploited Lynch’s capture and Tillman’s death to create heroes where none really existed. As Schmidt and Loeb know better than most, that allegation is a lie in the Lynch case, and it’s probably a lie in the Tillman case, too.
The truth is, both Lynch and Tillman were heroes. And while there were errors in reporting the details of their final moments at war, both remain heroes.
The real scandal. The real scandal in handling the Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman stories is not that the White House described both as heroes. The real scandal is that the defeatist Democrats instantly looked for something to sully their heroism.
The useful idiots for America’s enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan just couldn’t stand any American hero getting a hero’s treatment.
They had to push the story that U.S. GIs just couldn’t be heroes, that anything good said about an American soldier had to be a lie.
What Waxman won’t do. That real scandal would be exposed if Congress subpoenaed Post reporters Susan Schmidt and Vernon Loeb. But Congress won’t do that.
Unfortunately, Congress is controlled by hateful people who will hear nothing of heroes fighting for freedom. The defeatists have a war to lose. For them, heroes only get in the way.