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Tuesday, July 22

The media came - and Lynch's hometown was ready

By The (Huntington, W.Va.) Herald-Dispatch

ELIZABETH, W.Va. - Among the simple rules at Sportsman Park is this one: No vehicles on the grass.

But by 6:30 p.m. Monday, the park alongside the Little Kanawha River was sporting 15 satellite television trucks - not counting the dozen or so that were planted along Court Street.

About 50 media personnel arrived on Sunday to prepare for Tuesday's coverage of former POW Jessica Lynch's homecoming. By 6:38 p.m. Monday, 220 journalists from such countries as Germany, England and Canada had received credentials at a West Virginia Division of Tourism check-in point.

"Swedish TV just came in just a couple of pages ago," said Gail Justice, who was working the check-in point with Tony O'Leary.

Sure enough, Ann-Britt Ryd Pettersson had checked in at 5:30 p.m. By mid-afternoon Tuesday, more than 350 media personnel had gone through the gates, said a tired Justice.

Joseph Carey, director of strategic communications for West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, said they were ready for the flock of media this time.

In April, when Lynch was rescued from Iraq following the March ambush of her supply unit, satellite trucks grazed nervously for about five days near the Lynch home on tiny Mayberry Run Road in Palestine, W.Va.

This time, the governor's staff, including Carey, who did advance setup for President Bill Clinton for five years, had a virtual village for the media set up at the spacious Sportsman Park complete with circus tents, food, drinks and dozens of phone lines.

Bob Franken, a CNN corespondent who worked for Channel 8 in Charleston, Va., in the late 1960s, said the setup was equivalent to that of any presidential campaign stop.

"There's nothing to complain about and that's what I do for a living," Franken said, laughing, Monday night before going live on the air.

If the media were more comfortable, so were the people who mingled with everyone from Jane Clayson, of CBS' ``The Early Show,'' to Lester Holt, an anchor on MSNBC and NBC. Holt said he had a chance to stop by Mom's Place, a local restaurant.

``That's a mean cherry pie... Elizabeth is kind of like the town we wished we had all grown up in," Holt said.

"I met a few of the young people,'' Holt said. ``They seem wise beyond their years and grounded. We tend to invade communities in mass, but the people have been very patient and hospitable."

One of the local young people, Jennifer Baileys, 21, of Lower Standing Stone, actually became part of the media for a day.

MTV, which interviewed her in April, sent her a SONY hand-held video camera to get her view of the madness.

"Everything is just my view," said Baileys who will be a sophomore at Marshall University in the fall. "This is getting the view from the inside out. The way the average citizen views the press."