PunditFact Nails Maddow for 'False' Claim About Pentagon Pushing Tale of Jessica Lynch's Heroics

Update, June 8: one of the sources for PunditFact's reporting on Maddow, Media Myth Alert blogger W. Joseph Campbell, cited in this post.

Rachel Maddow prides herself as a stickler for accuracy, though she's more than willing to shed that inclination if it gets in the way of a good meme.

Her persistent penchant for the tall tale caught the attention of media watchdog PunditFact, a spin-off from frequent Maddow nemesis PolitiFact.com. After Maddow ran a lengthy segment on her MSNBC show Tuesday about long-since discredited reporting from the start of the Iraq war on Army private Jessica Lynch, PunditFact deemed her claim that the Pentagon "made up" an account of Lynch's heroism as "false." (Video after the jump)

Maddow was drawing a parallel between the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was the last American POW in Afghanistan, and Lynch, who became the first American POW since Vietnam to be rescued from enemy captivity. The point of the parallel was to slam conservatives for questioning the rationale for the Obama administration's decision to exchange Bergdahl, an alleged deserter who reportedly had come to hate America while serving in Afghanistan, for five Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo.

Typical of Maddow, she was in self-righteous high dudgeon when she made her bogus claim --

Should that rescue (of Lynch) not have happened? Should Jessica Lynch have been left there? Seriously, is that what we think about these things now? Private first class Jessica Lynch, star of the show of that rescue, if the heroics that the Pentagon made up about her didn't really happen -- and they didn't -- maybe the US special forces who rescued her and the other Americans held in that hospital, maybe they shouldn't have bothered. After all, maybe it was sort of their own screw-up that got them ambushed and hurt and captured in the first place. Is that how we think about these things now? Is that how we think now about that rescue in hindsight, knowing what we know now?

Earlier in the segment, Maddow cited an April 3, 2003 story in the Washington Post as the original source for reporting that quickly spread to other media outlets about Lynch surviving an ambush that killed 11 other American soldiers, then fighting while she was severely wounded as if "to the death" against Iraqi troops who captured her.

But as PunditFact's column points out, the very story cited by Maddow from the Washington Post refutes her claim about the Pentagon --

The Post relied on anonymous sources only described as "U.S. officials" in its initial report. Maddow claimed the "Pentagon" made the story up.

Actually, the story itself said the Pentagon couldn't confirm the story. (emphasis added)

The original Post report, written by Susan Schmidt and Vernon Loeb, said that Pentagon officials "had heard 'rumors' of Lynch's heroics but had had no confirmation."

The PunditFact column also cites an NPR interview with Loeb from December 2003 in which he elaborated on his reporting about Lynch and how the Post revisited the story after discovering it was inaccurate. "Our sources for that story were not Pentagon sources," he told NPR. "In fact, I could not get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about those reports at all. (emphasis added). I got indications that they had in fact received those intelligence reports, but the Pentagon was completely unwilling to comment on those reports at all. They wouldn't say anything about Jessica Lynch."

The column ends with PunditFact providing its "ruling," which ended with this statement -- "Maddow fails to have the evidence to back up her claim. We rate her claim False." The column also linked to incisive analysis of Maddow's gaffe by Media Myth Alert blogger W. Joseph Campbell and credited him as a source.

This marks the 21st time that PolitiFact or PunditFact has evaluated Maddow's reporting -- and the results aren't pretty. More than half were judged to be "mostly false", "false" or "pants on fire", the last designation implying deceit. None of which comes as any surprise to those of us who watch Maddow on a woefully regular basis. 

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts