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Context of 'November 10, 2003: ’Saving Jessica Lynch’ Broadcast on NBC, Receives Poor Reviews'

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NBC announces plans to make a movie of Army Private Jessica Lynch’s capture and rescue (see June 17, 2003). The network announces its choice to play Lynch: Canadian actress Laura Regan, whose most recent role was in a B-list horror movie. People magazine initially reports that Lynch, through her family and representatives, is close to signing a deal with NBC that would allow her at least some input into the movie script, but the family refuses to participate, saying they would rather see Lynch’s story told in book form. The film is based on the dubious accounts by Iraqi lawyer Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, who alerted Marines to Lynch’s captivity and assisted in her rescue (see April 10, 2003 and After). The film, entitled Saving Jessica Lynch in an apparent attempt to connect it with the award-winning 1998 film Saving Private Ryan, is already in production. NBC plans to air it during the so-called “sweeps” period in November, when viewership is measured and network ratings are determined. More to the family’s liking, a biography of Lynch, perhaps to be authored by former New York Times reporter Rick Bragg, is also in the works. [People, 8/7/2003; Entertainment Weekly, 8/7/2003; Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003]

Entity Tags: Rick Bragg, Laura Regan, Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, Jessica Lynch, NBC

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

A frightened Shoshana Johnson, photographed by her captors an hour after she was shot and captured by Iraqi fighters.A frightened Shoshana Johnson, photographed by her captors an hour after she was shot and captured by Iraqi fighters. [Source: Al-Jazeera / CNN]Army Specialist Shoshana Johnson, captured in the same Iraqi assault that ended in the captivity and eventual rescue of Private Jessica Lynch (see June 17, 2003), has faced a very different ordeal than her more famous comrade. Johnson was held captive for 22 days before being released. During her captivity, she was shot in both legs. She still suffers from severe physical and emotional trauma. She has not spoken out while Lynch became the focus of so much media attention, but she now feels she must: the Army has informed her that she will receive only a 30 percent disability benefit for her injuries. Lynch will receive an 80 percent disability benefit. Johnson is African American; Lynch is Caucasian. The difference amounts to between $600-$700 per month, a significant amount for Johnson, who is raising a three-year-old daughter. Johnson’s family has enlisted the help of civil rights activist Jesse Jackson to help make their case in the national press. Jackson says the discrepancy implies that a racial double standard is at work in the two women’s cases. “Here’s a case of two women, same [unit], same war; everything about their service commitment and their risk is equal,” Jackson says. “Yet there’s an enormous contrast between how the military has handled these two cases.” Philadelphia radio host Mary Mason says more bluntly: “Shoshana is getting the shaft, and people are outraged about it. It’s ridiculous, and complete racism.” Some have speculated that the difference in race and appearance—Lynch, a winsome, tiny blonde, is acknowledged to be quite photogenic, while Johnson is darker and heavier-featured—may have played a role in the selection of Lynch over Johnson to gain such heavy media coverage. Johnson’s father Claude, an Army veteran, says neither Shoshana nor the family begrudge Lynch her disability. They just believe that the benefits should be more equal. Lynch says she and Johnson are friends, and she hopes Johnson receives every benefit due her. The Army denies any bias, and says its decision on benefits is made according to a soldier’s injuries. Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile, an African American, says she won’t watch the NBC movie about Lynch’s ordeal (see November 10, 2003). “Jessica’s story is a compelling story, but so is Shoshana’s,” she says. “My reason for not tuning in is simple: I am tired of the double standard.” [Black Entertainment Television, 10/24/2003; Boston Globe, 11/9/2003] Johnson’s benefits will later be revised upwards (see March 18, 2008).

Entity Tags: Jesse Jackson, Jessica Lynch, Mary Mason, Shoshana Johnson, Claude Johnson, Donna Brazile

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Time magazine does a cover story on the recovering Private Jessica Lynch, who is the subject of a biography (see November 11, 2003) and a television movie (see November 10, 2003). The article profiles Lynch as she recovers from her wounds at her home in West Virginia. She says she had no idea that within hours of her rescue from an Iraqi hospital (see June 17, 2003), she had become an instant celebrity (see April 3, 2003). “I didn’t think that anyone out there even knew I existed, let alone write me a letter,” she says. “I was asking my mom, ‘Did I make the hometown Journal?’ She was like, ‘Yeah, you made it, plus all these world papers.’” Her father Greg recalls that she and the family were excited when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld came to their home to visit. “That was rewarding,” he says. “Not every day that you meet the big boys.” President Bush has not called the Lynch home, but, according to her father, she does not expect him to call. “He’s got a job to do,” her father says. Her physical recovery is a slow, unsteady process, but she is improving, her parents and physical therapist say. [Time, 11/9/2003]

Entity Tags: Jessica Lynch, Donald Rumsfeld, Greg Lynch, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Image from the ‘Saving Jessica Lynch’ poster.Image from the ‘Saving Jessica Lynch’ poster. [Source: Satellite Imaging Corporation]NBC’s television movie, Saving Jessica Lynch (see August 5-8, 2003), airs, attracting mediocre ratings. The film is based on the dubious account by Iraqi lawyer Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief as published in his book Because Every Life is Precious, and actually makes al-Rehaief, not Lynch, the central figure. Lynch and her family refused to take part in the movie’s production; Lynch even refused to meet with al-Rehaief when he journeyed to her hometown in West Virginia. Days before its airing, Entertainment Weekly critic Ken Tucker, after previewing it, lambasted it as “odious,” slammed its “assiduously bland storytelling,” and said that it “represents everything that’s wrong with this genre,” a subdivision of TV docudramas that he calls the “so-called women-in-jeopardy telefilm.” The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley calls it a “shameless attempt [by NBC] to capitalize on [a] real-life horror stor[y].” A later Times review will note, “An inordinate amount of poetic license is taken with the events surrounding Jessica’s rescue, with a plethora of ridiculous coincidences and serial-like thrills and chills thrown in to pep up the story.” [New York Times, 11/7/2003; Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003; New York Times, 2008] (NBC airs a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie: “This motion picture is based on a true story. However, some names have been changed and some characters, scenes and events in whole or part have been created for dramatic purpose.”) [Salon, 11/13/2003] In a review for the Deseret News, Scott Pierce writes, “If I thought NBC executives were capable of feeling shame, I’d suggest that they should be ashamed of themselves for foisting Saving Jessica Lynch off on viewers.” He calls the movie “a simple case of a network investing itself and its money in a project designed to grab ratings without pausing to find out what the real story was. And then not really worrying too much about getting its facts straight.… Never mind that the original story Americans were told about the rescue turned out to be largely bogus. Never mind that independent news organizations have called into question al-Rehaief’s version of events. This was ‘created for dramatic purposes.‘… [W]hat makes the telefilm nothing short of reprehensible is that, disclaimer or not, it presents fiction as fact and exploits the facts for ratings. I can’t help but think of how the families of the soldiers who died must feel about this.” [Deseret News, 11/8/2003]

Entity Tags: NBC, Jessica Lynch, Scott Pierce, Alessandra Stanley, Ken Tucker, Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Diane Sawyer and Jessica Lynch.Diane Sawyer and Jessica Lynch. [Source: ABC News / CNN]ABC airs an interview with Army Private Jessica Lynch (see June 17, 2003); the press reports elements from the interview four days in advance, from ABC press releases. In the interview, conducted by Diane Sawyer, Lynch says that the US military overdramatized the story of her rescue from an Iraqi hospital in Nasiriyah, a charge denied by US military officials, who blame the news media for reporting the story with incomplete information. Asked if the military exaggerated the danger of her rescue by US Special Forces commandos, Lynch replies, “Yeah, I don’t think it happened quite like that.” However, she says, it would have been foolish for her rescuers to go in less prepared. Any such unit “in that kind of situation would obviously go in with force, not knowing who was on the other side of the door.” The way the US military publicized her rescue (see April 1, 2003) upsets Lynch. “It does [bother me] that they used me as a way to symbolize all this stuff,” she says. “It’s wrong. I don’t know why they filmed it, or why they say the things they [say], you know.… All I know was that I was in that hospital hurting.… I needed help. I wanted out of there. It didn’t matter to me if they would have come in shirts and blank guns; it wouldn’t have mattered to me. I wanted out of there.” She has nothing but praise for her rescuers: “I’m so thankful that they did what they did. They risked their lives.”
Disputes Rape, Abuse Allegations in Biography - An upcoming book about her captivity (see September 2, 2003) alleges that she was raped by her Iraqi captors, a charge Lynch says she cannot confirm. The charge, placed in the book by author Rick Bragg, is based on what Bragg calls a medical report that shows Lynch was sexually assaulted. Lynch has no memory of any such assault, and says “even just the thinking about that, that’s too painful.” From what she remembers, she was well treated during her stay in the Iraqi hospital. One of the Iraqi doctors who treated her, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mahdi Khafaji, says he found no evidence of any such sexual assault. She also says that the story of her being slapped by an Iraqi paramilitary officer, as retold in a recent movie of her ordeal (see November 10, 2003), is untrue. “From the time I woke up in that hospital, no one beat me, no one slapped me, no one, nothing,” she says.
Feared Permanent Paralysis - Lynch recalls that while lying in the Iraqi hospital, she “seriously thought I was going to be paralyzed for the rest of my life. I’ve never felt that much pain in my whole entire life. It was, you know, from my foot to my other foot to my legs to my arms to my back, my head.” She does not consider herself a hero, she says: “I was just there in that spot, you know, the wrong place, the wrong time.”
Refuses to Take Credit for Fighting - Lynch confirms that when she and her fellow soldiers were attacked, she did not fire a single shot. Her weapon jammed when she tried to fire on her assailants. “I did not shoot, not a round, nothing,” she says. “I went down praying to my knees. And that’s the last I remember.” She says it hurt her to learn that initial news accounts portrayed her as emptying her weapon into her assailants, and finally falling due to multiple gunshot and knife wounds. Her injuries were all due to the crash of her vehicle. “It hurt in a way that people would make up stories that they had no truth about,” she says. “Only I would have been able to know that, because the other four people on my vehicle aren’t here to tell that story. So I would have been the only one able to say… I went down shooting. But I didn’t.” Lynch believes one of her fellow soldiers, Private Lori Piestewa, may have been the one who went down fighting. “That may have been her, but it wasn’t me, and I’m not taking credit for it,” Lynch says. Piestewa, Lynch’s best friend in the unit, was mortally wounded during the gunfight.
Wants to Teach Kindergarten - When she recovers, she says, she wants to teach kindergarten children. But she has to complete her physical therapy and fully recover from her injuries. She still has no feeling in her left foot, walks with crutches, and suffers from chronic kidney and bowel problems due to the injury to her spine. “I just want to keep adding, you know, just steps every day, just so eventually I can throw away the crutches and… just start walking on my own,” she says. “That’s my goal. I just want to be able to walk again.” [CNN, 11/7/2003; CNN, 11/7/2003; New York Times, 11/7/2003; Associated Press, 11/7/2003]
'Tough Interview' - Salon’s Eric Boehlert writes admiringly that “[t]he petite, tight-lipped Lynch is one tough interview.” She weathers Sawyer’s interview well, never losing her composure even after Sawyer, whom Boehlert says is notorious for “elicit[ing] on-camera tears,” surprised her with a photograph of the Iraqi hospital room Lynch had been held in. Boehlert writes: “The camera zoomed in on Lynch for a reaction. Yes, she calmly replied, that was the room she stayed in.” [Salon, 11/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Diane Sawyer, Lori Piestewa, Jessica Lynch, Eric Boehlert, US Department of Defense, Rick Bragg, ABC News, Mahdi Khafaji

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

National Public Radio (NPR) host Mike Pesca interviews New York media critic Michael Wolff regarding the storm of media hype and controversy surrounding the story of Private Jessica Lynch, particularly the recent television movie (see November 10, 2003) and biography (see November 11, 2003). Pesca notes: “[H]ere’s our sources on the Jessica Lynch story: an Iraqi doctor, Lynch herself, who has no memory of the ordeal, unnamed Pentagon sources, a TV movie of the week, and Rick Bragg, who left the New York Times for journalistic malfeasance. It’s like a multimedia Rashomon” (referring to the iconic Japanese film that retells a murder from multiple viewpoints, with no one version being completely factual). Wolff says there is reason to doubt virtually all of those sources: “[T]here is at this point reason to distrust and doubt everybody, because the heroine of this story also disputes everything that’s been said.” Wolff calls the story “a symbol of the Iraq war, [and] the Iraq war may be the symbol of the current media age.… [F]rom the very first moment it was clear that this story was going to be retailed essentially for political purposes, and it hasn’t moved off of that, although it has moved now into commercial purposes. We’ve gone from the Pentagon propaganda machine into the multimedia cross-platform propaganda machine.… I mean, everybody knows that this is not a real story. Nevertheless, we’re selling it all over the place.… I mean, the person right at the center of this story disputes every characterization of herself and of the events that took place. Nonetheless, we roll on. She gets her book deals. It’s as though there’s a parallel reality going here. Yeah, we know that the truth is over there, and that’s different from the stories that were being told, but we enjoy the stories that are being told so let’s forget about the truth.” Wolff is careful not to blame Lynch herself for the media frenzy surrounding her story: As a matter of fact, not only does she seem not to deserve the blame here, but every time she speaks, she says, ‘Oh, no, it didn’t happen that way.’ And no one seems to care.” [National Public Radio, 11/13/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Jessica Lynch, Michael Wolff, Mike Pesca, Rick Bragg

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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