The military-media complex
WASHINGTON — The marketing of young Jessica Lynch in book, docudrama, and television interview is a parable for the marketing of the Iraq war.
The exploitation, which she herself has criticized, started with the extravagantly hyped Pentagon account of a Rambo-like soldier. In fact, she was not shot, but was injured when her vehicle broke down. She was captured without firing a shot because her gun jammed. Then came the rescue from an Iraqi hospital, filmed by a conveniently available military video camera. The raid encountered virtually no resistance, earlier claims to the contrary notwithstanding.
Once back in this country, Pfc. Lynch became a hot-ticket item for the media. News executives strained to become embedded in her adventure. It seemed fitting, given all the hype, that the inventive New York Timesman, Jayson Blair, should be the one to write of a visit to the Lynch family, which he never made, and describe a nonexistent tobacco field. It seemed natural, too, that Lynch's own story should be written by another inventive former Timesman, Rick Bragg.
Anointing the young soldier as an icon of heroism is an enterprise in which the military and the media have a shared interest. Early on, CBS made a stab at getting "the big get," the exclusive first interview, offering a package deal that included a book and a musical television show. No dice; CBS retired from the competition.
Over the next six months, NBC took a different route, coming up with a docudrama that was based on the account of Mohammed al-Rehaief, the lawyer who led the rescuers to the injured soldier's hospital room. Mr. Rehaief has been welcomed to America, and he has his own book, of course.
Pfc. Lynch says the military exploited her capture and rescue to sway public support for the Iraq war, but she has played her role. She is all over the media - interviewed by Diane Sawyer on ABC, by Katie Couric on NBC, on the David Letterman show, and, as they say in the television business, much, much more.
With mounting casualties in Iraq and mounting doubts about the war, the creation of a heroic icon could not have come at a better time for the military. Jessica Lynch is making a great contribution to the military-media complex.
• Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.