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Iraq Journals

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Wednesday, April 23

Media vying for Texas woman's POW story

By Nadra Kareem | El Paso Times

EL PASO, Texas - Former prisoner of war Spc. Shoshana Johnson, wounded in both feet and held captive for 21 days by Iraqi forces loyal to Saddam Hussein, now has to face a hungry media.

The 30-year-old cook from Fort Bliss' 507th Maintenance Company and her family have been sought after by magazines, news programs and talk shows from all over the country. Black Entertainment Television, Newsweek, Katie Couric of NBC's "Today Show," Stone Phillips of NBC's "Dateline," CBS, Ebony magazine, Telemundo and Oprah Winfrey have tried to arrange an interview with the single mother of a 2-year-old, according to family spokeswoman Elsie Morgan.

The media frenzy began almost immediately after Johnson and the five other members of her unit were captured during an ambush March 23 near the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. Media personalities, such as Connie Chung and Larry King, began competing for her family's attention.

Throughout Johnson's three-week captivity, her April 13 release and her arrival home April 19, the Johnsons have become more selective about the media. As of Wednesday, Shoshana Johnson had not granted interviews with any television personalities, programs or publications, Morgan said. But Phillips was in El Paso on Tuesday spending time with Eunice Johnson, Shoshana's mother, and members of Shoshana's extended family.

There were ongoing negotiations with Harpo Productions, Oprah Winfrey's production company, to interview Johnson and the four other prisoners of war who arrived in Texas on Saturday. But a spokesperson for the production company said the talk show queen had no plans to travel to El Paso this week.

Essence magazine, which is aimed at African-American women, also hopes to interview Johnson. But on Wednesday, an editor at the New York magazine said that because many monthly magazines are compiled three months ahead of time, if they talked with Johnson now, an article probably wouldn't be published until August. The magazine editor, who would not give her name, expressed concern about whether her ordeal will be newsworthy when and if the magazine finally reaches her.

Black Entertainment Television has done whatever it can to get a one-on-one interview with Johnson. The cable network had been in town since her arrival at Fort Bliss on Saturday.

"For us, Shoshana Johnson is of particular interest," said Nina Henderson Moore, executive vice president of news and public affairs for BET. "It's not everyday that you're at war and certainly not everyday where there are prisoners of war, let alone a black female." During their time in El Paso, the BET crew spoke with Johnson's aunts, uncles and other relatives, Henderson Moore said.

BET crew members will probably leave town Friday, but while in El Paso, the network has gone head to head with networks such as CNN and MSNBC for coverage, Henderson Moore said. The competition has not quelled BET's desire for an interview with Johnson, Henderson Moore said.

"We would love to speak to her about her experiences ... viewers hope to hear what her experience is like."