When the Minneapolis Star Tribune reprinted Robert Scheer’s notorious Los Angeles Times column “Saving Private Jessica Lynch, Take 2” on May 23, John Kampfner — the BBC journalist on whose report Scheer had relied — had already retreated from the story on which Scheer’s column was based. The heart of Scheer’s column was the charge that Lynch’s rescue was an essentially phony operation; American forces had undertaken a theatrical rescue operation knowing they were at no risk and staged for propaganda purposes. Scheer condemned “the premeditated manufacture of the rescue[.]” According to Scheer, the rescue was “one in a series of egregious lies marketed to us by the Bush administration.”
On May 19, CNN had broadcast Kampfner’s interview with Bill Hemmer, where the following exchanges took place:
“HEMMER: And John, was there ever any claim from the Pentagon, refresh my memory, I don’t remember this, was there ever a claim made that U.S. special forces came into that hospital with guns blazing that night?
KAMPFNER: If you look at the TV footage itself, and the commentary that General Brooks attached to it, the implication of the way the Pentagon presented it was that U.S. special forces were putting their lives on the line that night in order to rescue Jessica Lynch.
I mean, on one point, you know, just to set the matter straight, nobody, I think, would be fair and reasonable in denying the American forces the right to get her out of there. Who, which country would want…
KAMPFNER: … their soldier to be, you know, in a hostile environment in a hospital that even if the Iraqi doctors had acted to the best of their ability, it obviously would be no match to any American or European hospital, where she could have received treatment and close to home.
So the contention — the argument is not were they in their rights to go and get her. Or maybe the argument is also not were they wrong to prepare for a worst-case scenario, perhaps they were right to do that. Everybody ought to anticipate the highest level of danger.”
On May 20 CNN had broadcast Kampfner’s interview with Leon Harris, where the following exchange took place:
“HARRIS: Is it your belief right now based upon your investigation that this rescue of Lynch was in any way a staged event and not real?
KAMPFNER: No. First things first. Credit where it is due. The Americans had a legitimate right in getting Lynch out of the hospital in Nasiriya. They had no way of knowing what her fate was, whether she was being well or badly treated. So, it is entirely legitimate for any country to want to get its own out as quickly and as safely as possible.”
Observers of the Star Tribune might think that its “reader’s representative” would find that the paper somewhat shortchanged its readers who came upon Scheer’s column in the paper on May 23 with no knowledge of the evidence that belied its thesis. On the contrary, however, today’s Star Tribune carries the column of its “reader’s representative” discussing the coverage of the rescue of Private Lynch, including Scheer’s column, with nothing but congratulations for the Star Tribune.
The column notes that, after running Scheer’s story, the Star Tribune itself had asked the AP to prepare a background story on one of the issues raised by Scheer’s column. The Strib offers its readers verdict first, trial later — the trial consisting almost entirely of the prosecution’s evidence. No word to the effect that the charge at the heart of Scheer’s column has been shown to lack any factual basis whatsoever. No word (except by quoting a reader’s comment) that the BBC journalist on whose reporting Scheer had relied has backed off key elements of his own story. Today’s column by the reader’s representative is “The story behind the Lynch story.”
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