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Interview with Stephen Battalgio

Aired June 16, 2003 - 20:43   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: When Private First Class Jessica Lynch went to have war in Iraq, she was known her to family, her friends, her military comrades. Now she's a household name. One of most sought after gets in the business, in news business. In newsroom lingo, a get is the ideal interviewee. They all want them. They all want the gets. Private First Class Lynch, qualifies because she was ambushed, wounded and captured during the early days of the war of Iraq. There is some of the rescue video. Then rescued from an Iraqi hospital, of course, by U.S. special forces. She's recovering at Washington's Walter Reed Medical Center, no doubt pursue something eye catching efforts from networks. As Dan Lothian, shows us, the networks go almost any length to get that get.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the television interview wars, this is one weapon to hit the ratings jackpot. Get a sought after guest first.

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS: You have said that all sex is not a sexual relationship, that you call it what?


LOTHIAN: If Barbara Walters is the mother of all big gets, she leads a competitive family of anchors and hosts fishing for the next big catch. Diane Sawyer got the husband of Modesto murder victim Laci Peterson, and gave Michael Jackson and his then wife Lisa Marie Presley a national stage to declare their love. Gary Condit ended his silence with Connie Chung after being courted by everyone with a camera, microphone and ear time.

(on camera): Whether it is a confession or denial, an attempt to repair a shattered image or get public therapy, stars and people in the news can be caught in a get race. And while most media organizations won't pay for interviews, everyone gets creative in order to seal the deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The anchor write these flaunting letters and they send flowers and they send gifts, all designed to sell themselves and their news organization.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): But sometimes it comes down to comfort level. Friendships or a show's credibility. The Clintons took time on "60 Minutes" to knock down an Arkansas affair.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FIRST LADY: I'm not sitting here some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette.

LOTHIAN: O.J. Simpson gave his first lengthy public denial to former BET anchor Ed Gordon.

O.J. SIMPSON, ENTERTAINER: I'm as innocent as anyone else out there.

LOTHIAN: Actor Hugh Grant thought a talk show would be the best place to play down his encounter with a prostitute.

JAY LENO, HOST "TONIGHT SHOW": Question no. 1, what the hell were you thinking?

LOTHIAN: Multiple TV news magazines help fuel competition, launching this media war no end.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The potential ratings and the lucrative advertising dollars are too great.

LOTHIAN: Incentive for the latest hunt, former POW Private Jessica Lynch, at the center of a heated debate over how far networks should go get that first interview.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Los Angeles.


COOPER: Well, according to today's "New York Times", Jessica Lynch received a bundle of patriotic books from NBC's Katie Couric, a locket with the photograph of her West Virginia home from ABC's Diane Sawyer and most eye opening of all, a letter from CBS mentioning possibilities such as movies, TV and book deals and a even guest host slot on MTV. We are going to talk about that in a little bit. Is this get business getting out of control?

Here is our own get, "New York Daily News" TV reporter Stephen Battaglio. Thanks very much Steven.

I don't know what was promised to get you here but we do appreciate you...

STEPHEN BATTAGLIO, TV REPORTER, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Actually the limo ride. But I am going to walk home.

I never made any of the calls. I guess I am not at that level of anchor where you are required to send cheesy gifts like that.

But has this gotten out of control?

Were you surprised by this Jessica Lynch thing?

BATTAGLIO: It has been out of control for some time. The networks are very competitive and they're constantly accusing each other of either making promises. Often because the companies -- the news divisions are part of larger entertainment media conglomerates. There -- Disney owns a publisher, a movie studio, cable networks. Same thing with Viacom, they own MTV and Simon and Shuster.

COOPER: The opportunities for what they can offer are greatly expanded.

BATTAGLIO: Exactly. So I've had producer from one network say to me, well, you know, ABC got that interview because they're doing their book with Miramax. And Miramax is owned by Disney and so on.

COOPER: Let's show some of this offer that came from CBS from a letter from CBS News to Jessica Lynch. Let's show some of what the offer had. A two hour CBS News documentary. All right. Appearances on CBS new shows. They also offer Viacom, their parent company, MTV News special, then an hour on MTV2 hosted by Jessica Lynch. MTV2 a little lower than MTV. It's not over yet. A special episode of MTV's "Total Request Live," country music television, special two hour made for TV movie. Simon and Shuster book deal. I mean, that's a lot.

BATTAGLIO: Let's point out, though, this is not -- this is not a quid pro quo. They are saying here are the opportunities you have within the Viacom family.

COOPER: Right. In fact, we have got a letter from Betsy West, who's the CBS News executive that we are put on the screen just to show what she says.

"We were led to believe that because of the media barrage of the Lynch family, it would be helpful to consolidate the various Viacom projects, including the CBS News proposal. We made it crystal clear that they were separate projects in no way linked." That's from Betsy West.

BATTAGLIO: I don't think that CBS is trying to pay or buy the interview. But they are guilty of looking guilty. Saying that CBS News is an independent entity and it won't have -- this offer isn't connect to any of the other offers in the Viacom family. But you're giving them the list of people that can go to and places they can call. It didn't look great. But the thing is, though, this is what we have sort of come to expect now. And this is what the public has been left with now because of media consolidation, because the news divisions are owned by larger companies with all these other interests.

COOPER: We'll see who gets the Private Lynch get. Stephen Battaglio, thanks for being with us.

BATTAGLIO: Thanks for having me.


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