Sunday, September 11, 2005

Jessica Lynch, Shoshana Johnson, and Patrick Miller: all members of the 507th Maintenance Company wounded during their capture by Iraqi troops on March 23, 2003.
So why has only one of these members of the 507th appeared on the cover of Time magazine, been interviewed by Diane Sawyer, or been offered a book deal with millions? Is it an issue of race and sex?
I say yes; and I believe there are many parties to blame for the coverage disparity.
The Pentagon is a good place to start. Jessica Lynch was a PR blessing to an administration that needed positive war coverage. A pretty, blonde, female private injured in battle, taken prisoner, and then recovered in a daring and heroic rescue mission (which, incidently, was all caught on videotape). The Pentagon told the press that Jessica heroically held off the enemy until her gun ran out of ammo. The private later said that her gun jammed, and she never fired a shot, yet the Pentagon never bothered to correct or retract their version of the incident. Private Patrick Miller, however, held off half a dozen enemy soldiers during the incident, and was never given a press conference or a book deal. It is fairly clear that private Lynch was chosen by PR representatives as a positive symbol for the war, in part because of her race and gender. Why else would the Pentagon single out one soldier from the unit? The United States military fed the nation the Jessica Lynch story, and the media swallowed it without bothering to chew. Journalists neglected to ask themselves or the Pentagon some important questions before going to press with Lynch's story. Why is this particular soldier so important to the public? Is it because she is a hero, or because she is a pretty, white female? What about all the other soldiers who have been injured, maimed, or killed in the war: are they not as important? I think it is important to note that several journalists publicly questioned the media blitz surrounding Jessica Lynch - but only after most of the coverage started to fade. This reflection is important, but it should have occurred much earlier (for instance, before the coverage started). By eliminating Shoshana Johnson and Patrick Miller from coverage, the news media essentially ignored two entire categories of people. Although this elimination was not intentional on the part of most reporters, it sent a very powerful and very negative message: "wounded soldiers are only important if they are pretty, female and white."