TERENCE SMITH: Since her rescue on April 1, Private First Class Jessica Lynch has been seen only in tightly controlled clips of Defense Department video.
But if CBS -- a subsidiary of media giant Viacom -- has its way, Lynch will be seen, heard, and distributed across its myriad media platforms.
And while Lynch recovers from her serious injuries, the hyper-competition among television news and entertainment outlets to land the "get" -- the blockbuster interview with Lynch -- goes on behind the scenes.
The competition broke into public view this week when The New York Times reported in a page-one article that Viacom -- which includes the CBS television network, MTV and other cable channels, Paramount Studios, and Simon & Schuster publishing -- had significantly sweetened its offer to the Lynch family.
In a letter, a CBS News executive offered a package that would include a two-hour documentary and multipart interview produced by CBS News; an MTV special and a welcome home country music concert in Lynch's hometown of Palestine, West Virginia; a two-hour made-for-television movie, produced by CBS entertainment; and discussions with Simon & Schuster about a book based on Jessica Lynch's story. The letter described the proposed package as: "A unique combination of projects that will do justice to Jessica's inspiring story."
In a statement responding to The Times, CBS News stressed that it does not pay for interviews, and that it maintains a well- established separation from other parts of Viacom, and "does not tie interview requests to entertainment projects."
Network booking wars are, of course, nothing new.
Last summer, ABC News -- which is part of the Disney Corporation -- scored the first television interview with the subjects of another rescue: The miners pulled from a flooded Pennsylvania mine. The miners, in turn, sold the book and movie rights to their story to Disney, after their appearance on ABC's Good Morning America.
Meanwhile, there remain a number of unanswered questions about the circumstances surrounding Lynch's capture, captivity, and rescue -- questions that may or may not be resolved by the various proposals to tell her story.
RAY SUAREZ: Joining me now are: Tammy Haddad, a media consultant and host of a radio show on Radio America. She was one of the creators of CNN's Larry King Live and a longtime executive producer there and at other network television news shows; and Tom Wolzien, senior media analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.
We should disclose that the company and its affiliates have discretion of greater than one percent of the stock of Viacom. Mr. Wolzien does not own any of the stock himself. And in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I've been a Simon and Schuster author.
Welcome to you both. Well, let's look at the quote: "From the distinguished reporting of CBS News to the youthful reach of MTV, we believe this is a unique combination of projects that will do justice to Jessica's inspiring story."
Is there a problem there?
TAMMY HADDAD: Well, I think there's an appearance problem, but as someone who spent last 15 years talking to these individuals in extraordinary circumstances on the phone, when the story breaks or a situation like this happens, what I found is most people want to know what their options are.
Put yourself in their position. They've got every media outlet and, of course there's so many now, they've got everyone calling them asking them for this and that. And, what we would get is, 'hey, tell us what you have to offer, put it on one piece of paper.' When I was at CNN -- there's 20 shows on CNN -- they would say, 'tell us what you want us to do most and give us the list of other things.'
I do think it's a natural role to this situation where you look at these vertically integrated companies and say we have these other things, our affiliates have these interests and to put it in a letter.
My problem with this story is that CBS News has not offered anything. It's not as if they were going to get the book deal if they got the interview in the news division. And we have to keep that in mind.
RAY SUAREZ: Because it wasn't guaranteed...
TAMMY HADDAD: It wasn't guaranteed or even mentioned. In fact later on in the letter -- and I do stress later on in the letter, maybe I would have put it closer to the top -- it says that this is not contingent on any deal with anyone else and all of that.
I think the unfortunate nature of this story at this point is this is what happens everyday.
It happens all the time but no one knew about it, I guess. It wasn't a surprise to me; I was surprised to see it on the front page of The New York Times.
But we have to remember that it's not as if Leslie Moonves, the president of CBS, called Mike Wallace and said 'hey we want you to get this Jessica Lynch interview but be nice to her, be gentle, so that we can make this book or movie deal.'
So I don't see where anybody is damaged at this point. I think that the people that watch this show and watch other shows, I think Jessica Lynch's family, I think they're all very sophisticated people. They understand how this works. If they're in this situation, they feel like they should get a piece of the action or control their story.
RAY SUAREZ: Tom Wolzien, just an appearance problem, as Tammy Haddad suggests, or something more serious?
TOM WOLZIEN: I think there's a real timing problem here, Mr. Suarez.
That right now, there is a tremendous debate going on in Washington -- really an alliance between the political right and the political left to challenge the Federal Communications' latest rules that allow companies particularly like Viacom to increase their ownership of television stations that reach a much broader portion of the country.
What this story does and this event does is it really reinforces the idea, rightly or wrongly, but the idea that CBS News is a part of a much larger organization and isn't really independent from that organization.
So it really provides some arguments for those people who are trying to challenge the FCC's decision of two weeks ago.
RAY SUAREZ: But isn't it part of a much larger organization? Isn't this the logic of synergy being carried out to its logical extensions?
TOM WOLZIEN: I don't know that it's the logical extension. I think synergy provides opportunities but it doesn't require that a news organization, for example, tie itself in its offers with those offers of the entertainment division.
TAMMY HADDAD: But these specifically don't tie themselves..
TOM WOLZIEN: Time Inc. for years maintained a separation between its magazines and its advertising side; even CNN I don't think is out there offering movies or pitching movies from the Warner Studio or necessarily shows on TNN as its booking Larry King Live appearances.
RAY SUAREZ: Go ahead.
TAMMY HADDAD: I was just going to add that while that's not the case, you have to remember that the option, if you don't do things like this, is actually what's happening right now.
NBC right now is in production with an unauthorized Jessica Lynch story. Will it be more accurate? Will it tell her side? I mean, that's part of the story too.
We have to remember these are about real people. It's one thing when you promise, I come back to the journalism and who is damaged by this? If there's a compromise on the interview 'we're not going to do this, we're not going to do that,' that's one thing. But that's not what we're seeing. That's not what we're hearing.
TOM WOLZIEN: I think the implication....
RAY SUAREZ: Go ahead, Tom Wolzien.
TOM WOLZIEN: I think the implication here is to the family or at least critics could look at it that, yeah, the journalism, the journalistic interview would be an interview that is for free.
There's no money that changes hands -- but by the way do you think people do shows on MTV for nothing? Do you think that they provide their rights to made-for-TV movies for nothing? There's an implication of a payment here that is tied directly by a CBS News producer to an offer to the family.
RAY SUAREZ: That brings up the way the landscape has changed though on both sides of the tug of war.
Jessica Lynch has signed with an agency that is representing her interest in packaging these deals. It's not like just calling up a news maker, which happens in news rooms all over America, and saying how about an interview. Is it? Tom?
TOM WOLZIEN: It's starting to appear to be much broader, but the news organization itself can sit there and say, we're talking about this interview and the entertainment division can come in separately, simultaneously if it wishes, and do the rest of the pitch.
But the two of them it doesn't seem to me have to be tied. It's that tying that I think opens the door for criticism.
TAMMY HADDAD: The thing I have a bigger problem with is that some of the other things we've seen over the years -- which is we're going to come on our show, give us the exclusive interview, and we'll give you $25,000 or $10,000 for your video or your personal family photos, those kinds of things that we never hear about and that we don't know.
To me, if CBS can make a deal, if CBS Entertainment can make a deal and CBS News can make a deal for an interview and for a show, I think everyone knows... they know it's CBS, and it's all clear, it's completely transparent, and you know no deals are taking place.
I've got to tell you I talked to some people in Los Angeles before coming on this show in the studio system, and they said to me the bigger story is that the deals like this that have been cut in the past aren't coming to fruition because some great synergistic god came down and said, 'Well, if this interview didn't get big ratings, then why should we go after the TV movie or why should we do the book?' I do think that the market sort of works all of these things out.
RAY SUAREZ: Is there a time limit on this, Tom Wolzien? Are there shoes still left to drop in the Jessica Lynch story, exactly what happened to her and the nature of her captivity that could end up having a company like Viacom investing in a dry well in effect?
TOM WOLZIEN: Quite possibly. We still don't know what happened in the case.
The stories in The Washington Post work of this week suggests that there may not have been as much drama to the story as was originally reported. And the fact that she has not been able to speak publicly yet raises the real question of how an interview would play out.
Once you get through the headline value of CBS or whoever has her, the question is how it actually... how that interview actually goes and how the subsequent businesses would..what they would deliver.
RAY SUAREZ: In your capacity as an analyst, haven't you questioned not as much the journalistic wisdom of this but even the business wisdom of it?
TOM WOLZIEN: In this case I did because Viacom is right now one of the two principle beneficiaries of the FCC's most recent decisions to allow an expansion of television station ownership -- News Corp being the other -- and that FCC decision is currently under some debate in Washington and a growing amount of debate, just as every day goes by.
My concern with this particular case is it just throws some fuel into that debate and that would work to the detriment of Viacom if there would be an FCC reversal.
TAMMY HADDAD: Didn't CBS... I was going to say didn't CBS put more fuel on the fire by writing, you know, attacking The New York Times right away about this story?
I mean, they blew it up. You could say quite easily, if they hadn't... you know, to have two primary major important -- both "Tiffany" you could argue -- news divisions going after each other, I mean, we all enjoy that because it's not us, but the truth is that would damage Viacom just as much.
RAY SUAREZ: Does it by definition pollute news judgment, compromise news judgment, to be aware of what other businesses in your company are doing? You refer to it as appearance earlier in this, should they just for appearances sake keep these things separate?
TAMMY HADDAD: I think that it's about what you do and it's about how you do it. And so what matters is, is there a compromise in the interview? Is there a question that's not asked? I'll tell you something else.
I mean I worked on the Today Show, too. We would make deals with celebrities when their movie comes out you'll get five parts here. We would negotiate against ABC and CBS. I don't think journalism was damaged by that. Recently we saw Madonna was on Matt... on the Today Show with Matt Lauer; she was also on Will and Grace. I'm not saying there was a deal there, but one helped promote the other. I mean, that's what happens -- because at the end of the day we're all trying to get ratings because the more ratings we get the more money we make and that makes us more powerful and we'll make better television or better news.
That's the reality of it.
RAY SUAREZ: Tammy Haddad, Tom Wolzien, thanks both.
TOM WOLZIEN: I guess as a... thank you.