- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2003

Pvt.Jessica Lynch Walter media mavens are converging on you in a wild bid for exclusive book, documentary and movie rights of your Iraq story.

According to the Times, Diane Sawyer of ABC sent you a locket with a photograph of your hometown of Palestine, W.Va. Katie Couric of NBC News sent you a bundle of patriotic books. CBS straddled the wall between its news and entertainment divisions for an air-land-sea assault that included MTV and Simon & Schuster publishers. MTV even offered concerts by Ashanti “and perhaps Ja Rule” in Palestine.

Where would everyone stand? In the graveyard up by the Baptist Church? In the parking lot at the Post Office? There isn’t even a wide place in the road at Palestine.

Hey, it’s not your problem. I hope you’re getting better at Walter Reed.

You’ve been in a lot of pain, and people are rooting for you.

I’ve heard that even Donald Rumsfeld, matinee-idol and your boss, doesn’t get as much fan mail as you. What a country.

The Pentagon and a couple of news organizations kind of messed up the story of your capture and rescue in Iraq. They are now backing off their reports that major resistance had to be overcome in the brave mission to get you out of the hospital and back to freedom. Some people also reported erroneously that you were shot in a firefight. It has taken a long time to learn that it was a crash, in which your limbs were broken and your back was seriously hurt.

Those errors aren’t your fault. Credibility is their problem. Yours is fine and your challenge in the days ahead is going to be to keep it that way.

You don’t have to emerge from this as Sgt. Alvin York or Audie Murphy.

Be yourself.

Tell the truth and do everything you can to make sure others tell it the way it happened. People will want to embellish it or even flat out distort what happened. Don’t let ‘em.

I have no idea what sums of money are being offered to you and your family and what you ought to do about them, except to sing “Country Roads” on the way to the bank and get a good investment adviser.

Trust your instincts.

I was born and raised a couple of counties east of Palestine. You and I grew up in a part of the country where people trust each other. We both have seen enough of the world to understand that not everyone outside of West Virginia is interested in the truth with the bark off.

The trick for you will be to find the men and women who are. There are some very upstanding news people and organizations who want to tell your story.

There is a possibility the facts may not be quite as dramatic as some producers think they should be. They may be looking for a high school kid in khakis and a ponytail attacking enemy positions and standing up in captivity to brutalizing guards. Maybe it happened that way. But if it didn’t, it’s all right.

The best part of your story anyway — and I’ve written this — is that you wanted to be a teacher. The good reporters will be interested. What was it like growing up in Wirt County? Why did you join the Army? Did you want adventure? Is this the best choice today for a rural kid without funds who wants to get a degree?

Tell them about it. Palestine looks like a good place for a girl to grow up but Hollywood will want to portray it as some natural fairyland and have you running through the hills like Julie Andrews. Others may want to portray you in a cute feed sack.

Particularly when Hollywood gets involved, you’re not going to be able to control some of it unless you have an exceptionally good contract with script review rights. But if you start this out with the simple and factual story of who you are and what happened to you, it will mean everything.

Who am I to be giving advice to you? One thing about it is that it was free (and worth every penny of it, as my wife says).

Sincerely,

John Hall

John Hall is the senior Washington correspondent of Media General News Service. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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