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Profile: Rick Bragg
Rick Bragg was a participant or observer in the following events:
NBC announces plans to make a movie of Army Private Jessica Lynch’s capture and rescue (see June 17, 2003). The network announces its choice to play Lynch: Canadian actress Laura Regan, whose most recent role was in a B-list horror movie. People magazine initially reports that Lynch, through her family and representatives, is close to signing a deal with NBC that would allow her at least some input into the movie script, but the family refuses to participate, saying they would rather see Lynch’s story told in book form. The film is based on the dubious accounts by Iraqi lawyer Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, who alerted Marines to Lynch’s captivity and assisted in her rescue (see April 10, 2003 and After). The film, entitled Saving Jessica Lynch in an apparent attempt to connect it with the award-winning 1998 film Saving Private Ryan, is already in production. NBC plans to air it during the so-called “sweeps” period in November, when viewership is measured and network ratings are determined. More to the family’s liking, a biography of Lynch, perhaps to be authored by former New York Times reporter Rick Bragg, is also in the works. [People, 8/7/2003; Entertainment Weekly, 8/7/2003; Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003]
Rick Bragg and Jessica Lynch discuss Lynch’s biography on the ‘Today Show,’ November 12, 2003. [Source: Peter Morgan / Reuters / Corbis]Army Private Jessica Lynch, captured during an ambush in Iraq (see March 23, 2003) and rescued from an Iraqi hospital nine days later (see June 17, 2003), signs a $1 million book deal with publisher Alfred A. Knopf to tell the story of her ordeal. She intends to allow former New York Times reporter Rick Bragg to actually write the book, to be titled I Am a Soldier, Too. “I feel a kinship with Jessica and her family,” Bragg says. Lynch says of the book, “It will be a story about growing up in America.” Knopf’s publicity director, Paul Bogaards, says Lynch’s memory is intact, and “The book will… answer any lingering questions about her injuries.” [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003] The book will allege that Lynch was raped by her captors, a charge Lynch will later dispute (see November 11, 2003).
Cover of I Am a Soldier, Too. [Source: Entertainment Weekly]Rick Bragg’s biography of Jessica Lynch (see June 17, 2003) is released under the title I Am a Soldier, Too (see September 2, 2003). Entertainment Weekly reviewer Tina Jordan says the book is straightforward, and shows Lynch as a humble young woman refusing to take credit for things she did not do: “I didn’t kill nobody,” Lynch says. Her memory of the hours after her injuries in the initial ambush are gone, and her story of her nine days under the care of Iraqi doctors parallels the story as told by other media sources after the initial propaganda blitz from the US military and media outlets such as the Washington Post (see April 1, 2003) had run its course. (The initial propaganda onslaught had an effect: a Marine interviewed for the book recalls: “I took it right to heart. I have a sister. She’s 19.… I thought of the people who would do that. I wanted to kill them. I killed 34 of them.”
Three-Part Structure - Bragg divides the book into three parts: the first a retelling of Lynch’s life before joining the Army, as another young woman in an impoverished West Virginia hamlet who, like her brother and so many other young people of the area, joined the military in hopes to build a future for herself. The second part of the book focuses on the March 23 ambush and capture (see March 23, 2003), and her nine days as a patient in an Iraqi hospital (see May 4, 2003). The third and last part of the book chronicles Lynch’s attempt to set her story straight. She never attempted to claim any undue credit for herself, consistently refusing to embrace the myth of her “heroism” in which the military and the media attempted to cloak her (see April 3, 2003).
Allegation of Rape - Jordan writes that “Bragg manages to suppress his penchant for overblown prose to give the straight story on Lynch’s remarkable ordeal.” New York Times reviewer David Lipsky is less forgiving, noting numerous infelicitously written passages and concluding that the book suffered from being written under a tight deadline. But amidst the sober retelling of facts, Bragg heads off in a controversial direction: alleging a sexual assault that Lynch does not recall suffering. [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003; Entertainment Weekly, 11/19/2003; New York Times, 12/14/2003] Lynch herself says she read the book but skipped the parts that were too hard for her to relive, the parts, she says, that made her parents cry. As for the allegation that Lynch was raped, Bragg says it was her parents that wanted that included in the book: “because if we didn’t put it in, the story wouldn’t be compete. It would be a lie.” [Time, 11/9/2003] But a Philadelphia Inquirer book reviewer notes angrily: “[The] revelation that she was sexually assaulted during those lost three hours, timed specifically to promote this book and her appearances, is repugnant, virtually unparalleled in the rancid history of publicity. It’s rape as a marketing tool.” [Salon, 11/13/2003]
No Extra Copies - One Connecticut bookstore owner is asked if her store will order extra copies of Lynch’s biography; she guffaws: “You must be kidding! Who cares? This story has been told to the nth degree.” [Salon, 11/13/2003]
Diane Sawyer and Jessica Lynch. [Source: ABC News / CNN]ABC airs an interview with Army Private Jessica Lynch (see June 17, 2003); the press reports elements from the interview four days in advance, from ABC press releases. In the interview, conducted by Diane Sawyer, Lynch says that the US military overdramatized the story of her rescue from an Iraqi hospital in Nasiriyah, a charge denied by US military officials, who blame the news media for reporting the story with incomplete information. Asked if the military exaggerated the danger of her rescue by US Special Forces commandos, Lynch replies, “Yeah, I don’t think it happened quite like that.” However, she says, it would have been foolish for her rescuers to go in less prepared. Any such unit “in that kind of situation would obviously go in with force, not knowing who was on the other side of the door.” The way the US military publicized her rescue (see April 1, 2003) upsets Lynch. “It does [bother me] that they used me as a way to symbolize all this stuff,” she says. “It’s wrong. I don’t know why they filmed it, or why they say the things they [say], you know.… All I know was that I was in that hospital hurting.… I needed help. I wanted out of there. It didn’t matter to me if they would have come in shirts and blank guns; it wouldn’t have mattered to me. I wanted out of there.” She has nothing but praise for her rescuers: “I’m so thankful that they did what they did. They risked their lives.”
Disputes Rape, Abuse Allegations in Biography - An upcoming book about her captivity (see September 2, 2003) alleges that she was raped by her Iraqi captors, a charge Lynch says she cannot confirm. The charge, placed in the book by author Rick Bragg, is based on what Bragg calls a medical report that shows Lynch was sexually assaulted. Lynch has no memory of any such assault, and says “even just the thinking about that, that’s too painful.” From what she remembers, she was well treated during her stay in the Iraqi hospital. One of the Iraqi doctors who treated her, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mahdi Khafaji, says he found no evidence of any such sexual assault. She also says that the story of her being slapped by an Iraqi paramilitary officer, as retold in a recent movie of her ordeal (see November 10, 2003), is untrue. “From the time I woke up in that hospital, no one beat me, no one slapped me, no one, nothing,” she says.
Feared Permanent Paralysis - Lynch recalls that while lying in the Iraqi hospital, she “seriously thought I was going to be paralyzed for the rest of my life. I’ve never felt that much pain in my whole entire life. It was, you know, from my foot to my other foot to my legs to my arms to my back, my head.” She does not consider herself a hero, she says: “I was just there in that spot, you know, the wrong place, the wrong time.”
Refuses to Take Credit for Fighting - Lynch confirms that when she and her fellow soldiers were attacked, she did not fire a single shot. Her weapon jammed when she tried to fire on her assailants. “I did not shoot, not a round, nothing,” she says. “I went down praying to my knees. And that’s the last I remember.” She says it hurt her to learn that initial news accounts portrayed her as emptying her weapon into her assailants, and finally falling due to multiple gunshot and knife wounds. Her injuries were all due to the crash of her vehicle. “It hurt in a way that people would make up stories that they had no truth about,” she says. “Only I would have been able to know that, because the other four people on my vehicle aren’t here to tell that story. So I would have been the only one able to say… I went down shooting. But I didn’t.” Lynch believes one of her fellow soldiers, Private Lori Piestewa, may have been the one who went down fighting. “That may have been her, but it wasn’t me, and I’m not taking credit for it,” Lynch says. Piestewa, Lynch’s best friend in the unit, was mortally wounded during the gunfight.
Wants to Teach Kindergarten - When she recovers, she says, she wants to teach kindergarten children. But she has to complete her physical therapy and fully recover from her injuries. She still has no feeling in her left foot, walks with crutches, and suffers from chronic kidney and bowel problems due to the injury to her spine. “I just want to keep adding, you know, just steps every day, just so eventually I can throw away the crutches and… just start walking on my own,” she says. “That’s my goal. I just want to be able to walk again.” [CNN, 11/7/2003; CNN, 11/7/2003; New York Times, 11/7/2003; Associated Press, 11/7/2003]
'Tough Interview' - Salon’s Eric Boehlert writes admiringly that “[t]he petite, tight-lipped Lynch is one tough interview.” She weathers Sawyer’s interview well, never losing her composure even after Sawyer, whom Boehlert says is notorious for “elicit[ing] on-camera tears,” surprised her with a photograph of the Iraqi hospital room Lynch had been held in. Boehlert writes: “The camera zoomed in on Lynch for a reaction. Yes, she calmly replied, that was the room she stayed in.” [Salon, 11/13/2003]
National Public Radio (NPR) host Mike Pesca interviews New York media critic Michael Wolff regarding the storm of media hype and controversy surrounding the story of Private Jessica Lynch, particularly the recent television movie (see November 10, 2003) and biography (see November 11, 2003). Pesca notes: “[H]ere’s our sources on the Jessica Lynch story: an Iraqi doctor, Lynch herself, who has no memory of the ordeal, unnamed Pentagon sources, a TV movie of the week, and Rick Bragg, who left the New York Times for journalistic malfeasance. It’s like a multimedia Rashomon” (referring to the iconic Japanese film that retells a murder from multiple viewpoints, with no one version being completely factual). Wolff says there is reason to doubt virtually all of those sources: “[T]here is at this point reason to distrust and doubt everybody, because the heroine of this story also disputes everything that’s been said.” Wolff calls the story “a symbol of the Iraq war, [and] the Iraq war may be the symbol of the current media age.… [F]rom the very first moment it was clear that this story was going to be retailed essentially for political purposes, and it hasn’t moved off of that, although it has moved now into commercial purposes. We’ve gone from the Pentagon propaganda machine into the multimedia cross-platform propaganda machine.… I mean, everybody knows that this is not a real story. Nevertheless, we’re selling it all over the place.… I mean, the person right at the center of this story disputes every characterization of herself and of the events that took place. Nonetheless, we roll on. She gets her book deals. It’s as though there’s a parallel reality going here. Yeah, we know that the truth is over there, and that’s different from the stories that were being told, but we enjoy the stories that are being told so let’s forget about the truth.” Wolff is careful not to blame Lynch herself for the media frenzy surrounding her story: As a matter of fact, not only does she seem not to deserve the blame here, but every time she speaks, she says, ‘Oh, no, it didn’t happen that way.’ And no one seems to care.” [National Public Radio, 11/13/2003]
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