As part of an ongoing series called Today's Buzziest Stories of the Decade, NBC's Meredith Vieira, on Monday's Today, featured a segment with former Iraq war POW Jessica Lynch, and with it brought back some of the "Buzziest" bias of the decade as Vieira declared Lynch's story was "exaggerated to sell a war hard up for appealing heroes," and described Lynch as a "pawn of the military that was trying to sell, some said, a war to the American public." While the stories of Lynch's ordeal were indeed exaggerated, something Lynch decried in the segment, for Vieira to claim the war was "hard up for appealing heroes," was a gross exaggeration in itself.
As the MRC's Rich Noyes pointed out in his 2005 Special Report, "TV's Bad News Brigade," there were plenty of stories of heroism for the media to tell, that they all too frequently ignored. Interestingly enough Vieira's own colleague, Andrea Mitchell, on April 4, 2005 did mention the story of one "appealing" hero, that of the late Sergeant Paul Smith who earned the Medal of Honor, as Mitchell recounted then:
"The 33-year-old sergeant and his platoon were trying to secure the airport when they were attacked....In the firefight, a company of at least 100 Iraqis hit an armored personnel carrier, wounding the three soldiers inside and leaving their .50-caliber machine gun unmanned. Braving a hail of Iraqi bullets, Sergeant Smith jumped onto the gunner's position and fired back, exposed from the waist up."
Perhaps Vieira should have checked NBC News' own archives before declaring the war was "hard up for appealing heroes."
The following is the full interview with Lynch as it was aired on the December 7 Today show:
MEREDITH VIEIRA: And now to the kickoff of our special series, Today's Buzziest Stories of the Decade. This week we are catching up with some of the most unforgettable people we've met in the past 10 years, beginning with Jessica Lynch. As a 19-year-old soldier she was captured during the early days of the U.S. invasion of Iraq back in 2003 and then later, dramatically rescued. We're gonna talk to her in a moment but first her story. talk to her in a moment.
JESSICA LYNCH: I put my head down, you know, and just prayed.
VIEIRA: Army Private First Class Jessica Lynch was only 19 when she was captured and held as a prisoner of war in Iraq in 2003. The whole world watched the unforgettable pictures of her midnight rescue by Air Force jumpers, Army Rangers and Marines.
LYNCH: It took me up, you know, when I was in the helicopter and actually being taken away when it really dawned on me, oh, you know I'm going home.
VIEIRA: A hero's welcome was waiting in her tiny hometown of Palestine, West Virginia where Jessica spoke for the first time about her dramatic rescue.
LYNCH: Those were my words. I am an American soldier, too. Thank you for this welcome and it's great to be home.
VIEIRA: But a long rehab for a fractured spine, nerve damage and a broken arm, leg and foot at Walter Reed Army Medical Center wasn't the only challenge back at home. Fame brought questions about what really happened to Jessica, along with accusations that her story was exaggerated to sell a war hard up for appealing heroes. Widespread reports that she had saved the lives of fellow soldiers in a dramatic firefight proved false. It turns out her weapon had actually jammed. She was called to testify before Congress in April 2007.
LYNCH: I'm still confused as to why they chose to lie and try to make me a legend. The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own heroes, ideals for heroes and they don't need to be told elaborate lies.
VIEIRA: Six and a half years after her return from Iraq, Jessica has gone from soldier to student. And in January of 2007, she became a mother, welcoming baby Dakota Ann. Dakota, meaning friend or ally, is named after Laurie Ann Piestowa, Jessica's closest friend in her unit and the first woman killed in combat in Iraq. Jessica Lynch, once America's best-known Army private, now at last, a private citizen. Jessica Lynch, good morning to you.
JESSICA LYNCH: Hi, good morning.
VIEIRA: When you look back at the old footage, does it seem like a million years ago to you? Or is it still fresh in your mind?
LYNCH: It does. But yet at the same time, it feels like yesterday, because I remember all the details so clear, so vivid. But, yeah, when I look at pictures and things, it does, it seems so long ago.
VIEIRA: You know, you sustained so many horrific injuries-
LYNCH: I did.
VIEIRA: -Back then and you've had 20 surgeries, how are you doing physically right now?
LYNCH: I'm doing better. Things are getting better over the course of the years. But I'm still dealing with a lot of surgeries with the right leg. Mainly the foot. And I still have no feeling in the left foot. So I'm still dealing with all of that and it makes it hard to walk. Especially with the back being broken at the time and stuff. So it's, it's healed much better now. But it's still makes difficult walking and lifting.
VIEIRA: And yet you continue to put one in front of the other, you've moved on with your life, you're now a junior in college studying education, what do you hope to do with that degree?
LYNCH: I hope to be an elementary education teacher one day. So, they're my passion, I love kids. So hopefully one day.
VIEIRA: And you're getting a little bit of experience, because you have a daughter of your own now, a two-year-old Dakota?
VIEIRA: Named in honor of your friend, Laurie, who was the, was ambushed along with you and died as a result of her injuries. At that time, she had two little ones of her own, three and five, you told me. Have you kept in touch with the family? And what do you tell her children about her?
LYNCH: The children know. I mean they pretty much kept up with everything with their mother. And so they, they know pretty much everything. But I talk to them as much as I can. I see them at least twice a year. So I do pretty much everything for the kids, if they need something, they know that they can come to me and count on me to be there for them.
VIEIRA: Yeah aunty Jessie will be there for them?
VIEIRA: The controversy surrounding the ambush. At first you were hailed as a hero. Then you were seen as a pawn of the military that was trying to sell, some said, a war to the American public.
VIEIRA: Do you hold any grudge against the military at this point?
LYNCH: I don't. I, you know, I think it's pointless. You know the, the stories that were fabricated, made up, you know, I just, you have to put them aside and leave it. You know the main thing right now is to know that we still have soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. And stationed really throughout the, the world, but, in those two wars. And we have to continue to support them. And make sure that they know that we are there for them.
VIEIRA: And yet, and yet you're still trying to vindicate yourself. You still get hate mail to this day.
LYNCH: Yeah. I do. I do. And those are the ones that you literally just shred up and ignore because I don't let anything go to my heart. I can't.
VIEIRA: And when people think of Jessica Lynch today, once a hero, then a pawn, what do you want to be remembered as? If you're a symbol for anything, what is it?
LYNCH: I don't know. I mean a good mother. I love all my babies, so that's one thing I want to be known as a good mother. But I guess just a symbol of, of, that if I can do it, and went through everything that I did that people can do it too.
VIEIRA: Jessica Lynch, thank you so much.
LYNCH: Thank you.