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Wednesday, November 12, 2003  

Controversy II: Lynch myth melts down

Atrios and I were the first bloggers to smell something fishy in the reportage about captured Pfc. Jessica Lynch. One reason is that Steno Sue Schmidt was one of the reporters who worked on it. She has a reputation for not questioning her sources closely or judging the credibility of information. We were also skeptical because the story had too many American tropes: amazing heroism by a private in a support role, exceedingly clever American intelligence personnel, the Gunga Dinnish foreigner who puts the U.S. first, blonde woman ravished by swarthy men, etc. However, I did not for a moment expect the narrative to be as false as it apparently is.

Skepticism about the deification of Pfc. Lynch has spread. Rick Bragg's autobiography of Lynch, I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story, which has been heavily promoted, was expected to sell well. Instead, booksellers are describing disappointing first-day traffic.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Despite a media blitz, the biography of America's best-known soldier from the Iraq war, Jessica Lynch, appeared unlikely on Tuesday to translate into big cash as the first day of sales fell short of expectations.

. . .Not a copy had been sold by midday on Tuesday, Veterans Day, at a Barnes & Noble store on Chicago's North Side, said an employee who declined to be identified. The store would not disclose how many of the books sold.

"I've yet to have anyone ask about it," the employee said.

At a Manhattan Barnes & Noble, an employee described interest as "moderate. It certainly has not been exceptional." Another nearby store sold one copy by lunchtime.

On online bookseller Amazon.com, the book ranked 21st in sales, well short of top-selling novel "The Da Vinci Code" and the latest get-slim-quick fad, "The South Beach Diet."

This a problem for Lynch if she is hoping to set aside a significant sum. Bragg may have received the greater part of both the advance and future royalities. For Lynch to profit, sales would likely have to be quite high.

I Am a Soldier, Too has also come under fire for its unsubstantiated claim Pfc. Lynch was sexually assaulted by Iraqis.

Viewership of the NBC television movie that sought to define her as the ultimate American heroine, Saving Jessica Lynch, was also lower than expected. CBS' competing movie about the kidnapping of a Utah teenager fared better. Sweet, of The Somewhat Heroic Adventures of SWEET explains why she decided not to watch NBC's expensive sweeps effort.

Call me a cynic. Call me unpatriotic. But I would not, just could not, bring myself to watch the Jessica Lynch story on TV yesterday.

Maybe it was all the hype. Maybe it was the fact that others in Jessica's unit, who had suffered the same fate or worse, were being totally ignored. Maybe it was the announcer telling me it was the show "All America had been waiting for." Maybe it was that annoyingly commercial sounding patriotic tune they kept playing in the promos. Whatever it was, whenever the trailer came on, I cringed.

I thought maybe it was just me, but then I saw an online poll and it seemed there were quite a few folks who, like me, had had about enough of the excessive marketing of Jessica's and Elizabeth Smart's story. My mother was in town over the weekend and we were sitting on the couch watching TV when another one of those annoying trailers started in on us. The announcer said the show would be airing in one hour. My mother groaned and made reference to the fact that we should remember to switch stations before the hour was up. I indeed was not alone.

Perhaps knowing the definitive story was not definitive reduced interest as the hoi polloi became more aware of the discrepancies newshounds have known about for months.

Millions of Americans sat down last weekend to watch one of the television blockbusters of the year. Saving Jessica Lynch, produced by NBC, opened with a vision of US army headlights crawling warily through the Iraqi desert haze on March 23.

The next two hours, according to network executives, offered the definitive account of what really happened to Private Lynch after the 507th Ordnance Maintenance convoy was famously ambushed.

Few viewers will have taken that promise seriously. After yet another week of conflicting accounts, confused memories and unpleasant revelations, the truth of what happened to Lynch is still as murky as the green-tinged video footage of her rescue from a hospital in Nasiriyah on April 1.

Among the people now uncomfortable with the mythic Lynch are those who created her.

In the corridors of the Bush administration, senior officials frankly admit that they would prefer the Jessica Lynch story simply went away.

"The Private Lynch story is becoming a monster," said one administration official.

. . .The Pentagon may have hyped the story of Private Lynch for its own propaganda purposes: now, with a $US1 million ($A1.4 million) deal for co-operation with an authorised biography, the Lynch family is selling a different story, to the increasing discomfort of much of the American public.

Yesterday's contribution to the meltdown of the myth came from an unsavory, but usually reliable, source -- slimemeister Larry Flynt.

Pornographer Larry Flynt says he bought nude photos of Pfc. Jessica Lynch to publish in Hustler magazine, but changed his mind because she's a "good kid" who became "a pawn for the government."

Flynt told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he bought the photos last month from the men who purportedly participated in the amateur shoot with the Army supply clerk. The soldiers "wanted to let it be known that she's not all apple pie," Flynt said.

"My first intention was to publish them, but I don't think it was the best, positive move I could make," Flynt said in a telephone interview. "She's very much a pawn for the government. They force-fed us a Joan of Arc."

. . .Flynt said the photographs appeared to be taken in an Army barracks, and showed Lynch topless and fully nude, frolicking with the soldiers.

He would not say what he paid for the photographs, which he said he'd lock in a vault.

"Some things are more important than money," he said. "You gotta do the right thing."

What goes up tends to come down -- sometimes with a big splat. However, I believe people other than Pfc. Lynch bear the bulk of the responsibility for this mess. The Pentagon and the Bush administration are responsible for a shameless attempt to wrap an unjustifiable war in the flag, with a blonde female soldier wearing said flag. The Washington Post and other media are responsible for having dutifully echoed the government's ludicrous claims initially. The American public is responsible for largely buying the bullshit it was being sold. Let's hear it for skepticism. It beats being played for a fool.

6:00 PM