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Cashing in on Jessica Lynch



M erely sending patriotic books and lockets to prospective interviewees isn't good enough anymore, even if you're a television doyenne with an eye on the prize.

As CBS has demonstrated, when you're serious about getting the get, you've got to shower prospective news interviews with potential book deals, movie deals, concert deals or even an MTV special.

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that in efforts to secure an exclusive interview with prisoner of war Jessica Lynch, CBS News -- which is owned by Viacom Corporation -- dangled just those type of goodies.

"Attached you will find the outlines of a proposal that includes ideas from CBS News, CBS Entertainment, MTV networks and Simon & Schuster Publishers," CBS Vice President Betsy West wrote to Lynch in a letter, which was obtained by the Times. West went on to list the potential projects in great detail.

On Monday, CBS News came out swinging -- at the New York Times, which the network accused of quoting out of context. West's letter, the network maintained, had also stated that "we never tie interview requests to entertainment projects" and that "we wanted to make sure that CBS News' proposal was being considered as a single entity."

CBS further attempted to deflect the controversy by bringing up the New York Times' own recent and well-publicized ethical problems. But that dog had no bark as far as other news organizations were concerned, as CBS News both denied the accuracy of the quoted pitch and refused to release the full text of their letter to Lynch. And, as Reuters news service reported, journalism experts were hard-pressed to explain why CBS News would mention book and entertainment opportunities in a letter that was supposedly designed to land a news story -- unless they wanted to dangle delicious carrots.

CBS News spokesperson Sandy Genelius tried to further dilute matters by suggesting that other networks also had offered sweet deals to Lynch in hopes of landing an exclusive interview. The Associated Press reported that ABC, which is owned by Disney Corporation, offered Lynch a primetime special, as well as a multipart special on "Good Morning America" and other options for news specials. ABC's Diane Sawyer reportedly sent Lynch a locket that contained a photo of Lynch's family home

And NBC's Katie Couric sent Lynch a collection of patriotic books in an effort to woo the rescued soldier for an exclusive interview. But the General Motors-owned news network reported it "would not advance projects by other divisions under its corporate umbrella."

All of it stinks.

Which, finally, brings us to the point of this little exercise. If you'll recall, it's been just two weeks since the Federal Communication Corporation voted to further relax the rules on media consolidation, embracing further monopoly corporate ownership of the media outlets that Americans depend on for their news. The new rules have not even gone into effect, and so CBS News' Lynch affair is merely an example of life before more media monopoly consolidation.

And let's not forget the kicker: the Jessica Lynch story itself, which will apparently be coming soon to TV, bookstore or movie theater near you.

The American public was understandably enthralled by what was initially described by major news networks as the daring rescue of a 20-year old Army private who was injured and taken prisoner in Iraq after reportedly fighting like crazy against the enemy.

But in recent weeks, it has been revealed that as much as we'd like our initial feeding of the dramatic story to be true, much of it was based on inaccurate, Pentagon-generated propaganda.

New information indicates that Lynch did not kill any Iraqi soldiers of before her capture, as had been previously reported. And reports now indicate that the Iraqis actually tried to return Lynch to U.S. troops but were turned away with threats of gunfire.

Which brings us to the question that we all should be asking: Instead of falling all over themselves in an effort to land Pvt. Lynch on their shows and offering her book and movie deals, couldn't the news networks use at least some of their vast resources to get to the bottom of what exactly happened -- including their own complicity in duping the American public with their initial reports on Lynch?

And shouldn't you, the media consumer, head to your telephone right now to call Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard at 634-6071 and thank him for his criticism of the new FCC rules and his hard work to reverse them? After that, you might call your congressman (Joel Hefley at 520-0055) and Colorado's other senator, Ben Nighthorse Campbell (636-9092), and urge them to join with Allard.


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