Jewish World Review June 24, 2003 / 24 Sivan, 5763

Terry Eastland

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Whatever the Lynch story, everyone wants it | Private Jessica Lynch is in the news again, not because of anything she did in Iraq but because of the news media's pursuit of her.

Getting Private Lynch is the new storyline, as in getting an exclusive interview with her.

Last week, The New York Times reported CBS' efforts to be the first to interview the former prisoner of war. In news circles, an interview with someone like Ms. Lynch is known as "the get," meaning that the person to be interviewed is of such renown (for whatever reason) that news organizations seek to be the first to "get" the person booked.

In letters to Ms. Lynch's representatives that were "obtained" by The Times, CBS News Senior Vice President Betsy West combined her interview request with other "projects" the Army private might want to consider.

Those projects would involve not CBS News but the other divisions of its huge corporate parent, Viacom. They include a movie with CBS Entertainment, a book with Simon & Schuster, a special with MTV Networks, an hour-long music-video program with MTV2 and a special edition of Total Request Live.

The Times wrote that CBS News, in making its pitch, "renewed concerns among critics about the independence of news divisions owned by media giants." The network has spent the week fighting back, insisting on its independence and maintaining that there was "no quid pro quo stated or implied," as Ms. West has said.

If CBS does get the interview and if Ms. Lynch agrees to do a book or a movie or MTV, it will be hard for Ms. West and her colleagues to rebut the suspicion that they in effect paid for the interview. And when the interview airs, it will be fair to ask whether CBS adhered to professional standards or instead asked questions influenced by Viacom's other investments in her.

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The irony of the media's pursuit of Ms. Lynch is that whoever does interview her is unlikely to learn much about the events that made her a "get."

Recall that she was a member of the Army maintenance unit that, after taking several wrong turns, was ambushed in southern Iraq on March 23. Eleven American soldiers were killed.

Five others were captured and later freed. Ms. Lynch also was captured and, having suffered severe injuries, was held separately at a hospital in Nasiriyah, Iraq. She had been there nine days when Marines executed a daring nighttime rescue.

Initial news accounts told how a frail, 19-year-old supply clerk from West Virginia had emptied her M-16, killing several Iraqi soldiers while being stabbed and shot up.

Think of Davy Crockett's last stand at the Alamo (at least as the movies portray the scene), except that in Ms. Lynch's last stand the hero is a heroine barely out of high school and doesn't draw her last breath.

However - and this is a big however - those first reports were wrong.

In an exhaustive re-examination of the story, The Washington Post recently found that Ms. Lynch tried to fire her M-16 - but it jammed. She killed no Iraqis and was neither shot nor stabbed. Her injuries occurred when the Humvee she was riding in hit a jackknifed U.S. truck. According to two anonymous sources, she was "mistreated by her captors."

The Post concludes that her story is "far more complex and different than" was reported, with much of it "shrouded in mystery," in large part because Pfc. Lynch has yet to tell her version of events.

Actually, she is unable to. She has been in Walter Reed Medical Center for more than 70 days. And her doctors "are reasonably sure," an Army spokesman told The Post, "that she does not know what happened to her."

So, the important question right now isn't one to be asked of Pfc. Lynch. It is one about her memory - whether she ever will be able to recall those wrong turns, the ambush, her captors, her treatment at their hands and her rescue.

Those are the things most people would like to know about --- from her.

The hope that she may be able to tell us is also a hope for her full recovery.

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JWR contributor Terry Eastland is is publisher of The Weekly Standard.Comment by clicking here.

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03/05/03: America's imperial intentions
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02/19/03: Administration fine-tunes religious rights in public education
02/12/03: France and Germany need to be reminded of the necessity of a strong, even predominant America
02/06/03: Judiciary's 'balance' -- or lack of it -- is our doing
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10/15/02: Open hearings that could imperil the nation
10/08/02: Debating the clear and present danger
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09/04/02: The Education Gadfly stings again
08/28/02: So then let the president declare war
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08/06/02: President must take up cause of Egyptian democracy warrior
07/31/02: With each war, civil liberties are curtailed less

© 2002, Terry Eastland