CBS News woos Private Lynch with corporate synergy

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

AP Television Writer

LOS ANGELES -- CBS News did nothing improper in dangling possible book and TV deals while pursuing an interview with rescued soldier Jessica Lynch, a spokeswoman said Monday.

There was a clear distinction between the request for an interview with Lynch and possible deals with MTV, Simon & Schuster and other Viacom divisions, CBS News spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said.

Other networks made similar inquiries, she contended.

"Most of the other network proposals did have some entertainment proposals or tie-in attached to them," Genelius said, citing comments made to her by a spokesperson for Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Network offers have been reviewed for the Lynch family by officials at the medical center in Washington, D.C., where Lynch remains hospitalized, Genelius said.

Said ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider: "We made a very straightforward pitch to Private Lynch to be interviewed by ABC News for a number of ABC News broadcasts, and that's the extent of what we offered."

A copy of the ABC News letter sent to the Lynch family in care of Walter Reed was obtained by The Associated Press. It proposes a one- or two-hour primetime special about Lynch, her rescuers and doctors, a multipart special on "Good Morning America" and the option of reports on "Nightline" and "World News Tonight."

The letter from the Disney-owned network contains no mention of possible entertainment deals.

An NBC spokesman said the network would not advance projects by other divisions under its corporate umbrella.

But a Walter Reed spokeswoman, Beverly Chidel, said many of the network interview requests that flooded in after Lynch was admitted in April did mention non-news opportunities.

"Everything was news, news and you continue reading and you start seeing entertainment (proposals)," said Chidel, who told some networks the requests were confusing and should focus solely on a news interview.

She couldn't recall details about specific network offers, she said, noting two months had passed since Lynch was hospitalized at Walter Reed.

Pfc. Lynch, 20, is considered the most compelling interview -- known as a "get" in the hyper-competitive world of TV news -- to emerge from the war in Iraq. She has yet to tell the story of her capture while on patrol in southern Iraq and subsequent rescue by Marines from an Iraqi hospital.

CBS News proposed a two-hour documentary in a letter to Lynch's family that also noted the opportunities offered by other Viacom units, The New York Times reported Monday. The Times obtained CBS' correspondence to the Lynch family and to the hospital.

"Attached you will find the outlines of a proposal that includes ideas from CBS News, CBS Entertainment, MTV networks and Simon & Schuster publishers," wrote Betsy West, a CBS News senior vice president.

CBS Entertainment executives, the proposal said, "tell us this would be the highest priority for the CBS movie division, which specializes in inspirational stories of courage."

Simon & Schuster "is extremely interested in discussing the possibilities for a book based on Jessica's journey from Palestine, West Virginia, to deep inside Iraq," according to the proposal.

MTV Networks, the letter said, was offering a news special, a chance for Lynch and her friends to be the hosts of a music video program on MTV2, and a special edition of its hit show "Total Request Live" in her honor.

"This special would include a concert performance in Palestine, West Va., by a current star act such as Ashanti, and perhaps Ja Rule," the proposal said.

The CBS newsmagazine "60 Minutes" took a similar approach to hiker Aron Ralston, who amputated his arm to free himself from a boulder in Utah. CBS offered to help him contact other Viacom divisions, the Times said.

CBS News defended its approach to Lynch.

"CBS News does not pay for interviews and it maintains a well-established separation from other parts of Viacom," the news division said in a statement Monday. The letters reiterate the division's editorial independence and state that interviews are never tied to entertainment projects, according to the statement.

Although CBS complained that the Times "selectively quoted" the letters, the network refused to make the correspondence public.

Other networks are in the hunt for Lynch but less aggressively, according to the Times. NBC News' Katie Couric sent Lynch a collection of patriotic books, while Diane Sawyer of ABC News sent a photo of Lynch's family home contained in a locket.

Lynch, a supply clerk and a private first class, became one of the best-known figures of the war after her unit made a wrong turn and was ambushed March 23 in southern Iraq. She suffered multiple broken bones, 11 of her comrades were killed and five other members of the 507th Maintenance Company were taken prisoner.

The other POWs from the 507th were released later.

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