Kimberly Munley, Jessica Lynch and the Path to Being a Media Heroine

The media loves a hero with lipstick. Female Rambo’s sell, big time, translating into the holy cha-ching for news outlets and talk shows. Problem is, the media is so eager to exploit the heroics of a (hopefully photogenic) gun toting girl, they tend to get carried away with themselves and do silly things, like print packs of lies. That happens when you are more interested in headlines than practicing journalism. And nothing makes headlines quite like a real life Wonder Woman, or even the concocted possibility of one.

The latest firearm femme is Kimberly Munley, now the erstwhile savior of Ft. Hood, Texas, credited with stopping murderous madman Nidal Hassan all by herself, even as she was peppered with bullets in the process.

According to the military, and subsequently regurgitated by the media with little or no investigation, it was like a scene out of Dirty Harry, with Munley playing the role of super cop so well that Clint Eastwood would have bowed and handed over his .44 magnum in red faced shame.

It turns out that this isn’t how things happened at all.

Who’da thunk, eh?

The name of the person, ahem, man, who actually took Nassan down is Sgt. Mark Todd, a retired soldier working on the army base as civilian police officer. He was the one who got the job done and ended the nightmare at Ft. Hood.

Currently, there is no question of Munley’s bravery. She apparently did her job and probably deserves our admiration. Pardon the insertion of words like “apparently” and “probably.” History tells us that we need to reserve judgment till the facts are in; facts that the media tends treat like the loose change in a million dollar transaction.

But even if Munley’s actions ultimately prove exemplary, we need to acknowledge that were it not for the confusion created by the pursuit of a sensational story about a heroic woman, the headline would have simply read, “Gunman Taken Down by Police,” and Sgt. Todd would have been lucky to even have his name mentioned.

And now the that hero has been identified as a man, we can watch the media lose interest in that part of the story like a car salesman loses interest in people with bad credit.

One would easily view this as a testament to the fact that bravery from men in uniform is commonplace. After all, how many bother to remember the name of the second guy to walk on the moon? We are a culture that remembers firsts. We love the groundbreakers, the top dogs, the Super Bowl winners, and have collective amnesia about anything else. When it comes to an absolute victory by the heroic actions of a woman under fire, we are still awaiting the benchmark event.

And in our desperation for it we are giving the media a pass to create one for us out of thin air.

We saw a sadly similar story in the matter of Jessica Lynch, the American Soldier who became an iconic figure in the Gulf War via that Hollywood style propaganda machine we also call The Pentagon. And why? Not because she did anything of military significance, but because the managers of the war recognized that a flesh and blood ballerina barbarian was a bonanza of 24 carat PR. And they knew the story, at least initially, wouldn’t face much scrutiny from the media, or from an American public that would race mindlessly to embrace the whatever they were told.

And I specify “American” because it was an American fabrication. Or as Group Captain Al Lockwood said regarding American and British military handling of the story, “We had two different styles of news media management. I feel fortunate to have been part of the UK one.”

Who knows if the British are more patient for a real heroine, or if they are holding out for one of their own.

Still, Lynch was such a great opportunity for America that the military reported she had been shot during the firefight that led to her capture, then stabbed and beaten by her captors. None of it was true. Gleefully undeterred by the facts, officials made a short, expertly edited film production of Navy Seals and Army Rangers converging on and aggressively securing the hospital where Lynch was being held. Rather where she was being compassionately treated by civilian doctors for injuries she suffered when her vehicle crashed.

The problem was that there was no enemy around to pose a threat, or to justify the orchestrated, Entebbe style raid. The enemy had already moved on, leaving Lynch behind to be taken care of at the hospital. A fact, it seems, that the military was well aware of before going in after her, and one that found its way to the cutting room floor before the official story being released.

It was a story so staged and scripted that you could almost hear a The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff shout, “Cut! That’s a wrap!” after the first news conference on the “rescue.”

It was, however, a win-win for everyone. America had it’s heroine, and The Pentagon had its feel good moment; an entertaining and uplifting anecdote from the war at a crucial time when support was starting to lag.

And it worked for a while in spades, though it left an American public largely ignorant of the fact they were duped.

People seem happy with it, though. Our proclivity to embrace fantasy where it comes to women appears bottomless. We have turned an entire collective consciousness into an episode of Xena- Warrior Princess, lending us to sit with happy, vacant, smiles, shirts covered with popcorn as we watch her battle ten men at a time, nine of them standing in the periphery, making jerky, ambiguous movements while they wait in queue to be the next one she dispatches with ease.

We love Laura Croft and are transfixed by Uma Thurman slicing through legions of martial arts experts with her Hattori Hanzo sword. Female butt kicking is high profit hokum for the big screen, and perhaps staves off our appetite for when the real life Dirty Harriet finally makes her debut.

It would seem harmless enough. After all, it’s only human nature to indulge in fantasy. Whether that is Sigourney Weaver walking over dead marines to wipe out a horde of aliens with acid for blood or Buffy the Vampire Slayer destroying armies of the undead doesn’t make much difference.

But in the real world we should take pause. Nine soldiers lost their lives in the battle that resulted in Jessica Lynch’s capture. It was a battle in which by her own account she never fired a shot, but rather hit her knees to pray when the bullets started flying.

And rather than do the right thing, which would have been to go pick her up from the hospital and quietly retire her back to civilian life, we turned her into Sally Stallone and toasted her bravery. We made her a hero of fools.

In the other tragedy, 13 people lay dead at the end of Hassan’s rampage. A somber enough event to warrant some respect for the truth, and a good measure of diligence in getting to it. But in the end, it was the headline, the right headline, that mattered, not the story behind it. And it is a shameful example of media gone awry in the pursuit of realizing a fallacious dream.

Like all forms of fraud on behalf of women this ultimately hurts them.

Someday, the inevitable will happen, and a woman will emerge as a bona fide hero on wheels. But once the public has been taken through so many more rounds ala Jessica Lynch and Kimberly Munley, she will only be taken with a grain of salt.

And that will be insanely attributed to sexism against women, which the media will gladly, and redundantly, report.

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