NEW YORK (AP) -- Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger is no mere hero pilot. He's such a hot media commodity that journalists are being restricted from taking pictures of him being introduced to the audience at a Broadway play this weekend.
The pilot and crew who guided US Airways Flight 1549 to a safe landing in the Hudson River after its engines failed gave their first extensive interview to Katie Couric for broadcast on CBS' "60 Minutes" this Sunday.
The interview was the subject of tough competition and hard feelings. NBC's "Today" show said Sullenberger had promised Matt Lauer the first interview, but that was postponed because of the investigation into the Jan. 15 incident. When the gag was lifted on the crew, Couric emerged the winner.
Along with the interview, CBS and "60 Minutes" were given "veto power" over all other media access to the crew before the interview was aired, said James Ray, a spokesman for US Airways' pilots union.
The Associated Press was invited by a publicist for "South Pacific" to send photographers and a reporter to Lincoln Center on Saturday to record the presumed ovation when Sullenberger and his family, who are planning to attend the show, are introduced to other audience members. Yet that invitation for a reporter and video journalist was rescinded, with the publicist, Philip Rinaldi, saying he was acting at the behest of Sullenberger's representatives.
Both Ray and a CBS spokesman said they were not aware of the "South Pacific" invitation.
But Ray and a publicist representing the flight attendants union both said they were letting CBS News call the shots on weekend access to the crew.
"Whatever we do on Sunday has to be blessed by CBS," Corey Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the flight attendants, said in an e-mail to the AP.
Kevin Tedesco, "60 Minutes" spokesman, noted that the Sullenbergers had chosen to tell their story to the newsmagazine. "Like any news organization, we want to be the first to broadcast it and CBS News is proud to have our audience be the first to hear their amazing story," he said.
Ray said "60 Minutes" told the unions that the crew could not be interviewed by the AP on Sunday. Caldwell had said more than a week ago that the AP would likely be allowed to interview the crew, so long as the organization agreed not to distribute the material to its online, newspaper and broadcast clients until after the "60 Minutes" telecast started. But in an e-mail, Caldwell later said that "the deal is off the table."
Instead, People magazine was granted access Sunday to the crew.
It's not unusual for news organizations to play hardball in trying to protect an exclusive story. "60 Minutes" has invested time and money to prepare the piece and its value — along with the likely size of its audience — increases with exclusivity.
"Nobody is in the business of having an exclusive and having it scooped," said Steve Friedman, former executive producer at "Today" and "The Early Show" on CBS. "You want to protect yourself as much as you can."
What's more unusual is having news subjects admit they are ceding much of their decision-making authority to that news organization.
CBS and Couric also took Sullenberger and First Officer Jeff Skiles on board the USS Intrepid on Friday, where they could look out on their water landing pad. The network aired quotes from that interview on the "CBS Evening News" on Friday, to build anticipation for the "60 Minutes" piece.
Complicating matters for news organizations following the story is the large media scrum around the crew, often with competing interests. Lauer made his original arrangements for the interview directly with Sullenberger's wife. Yet the family soon hired their own public relations representative, Alex Clemens. The pilots union and the flight attendants union had their own representatives, and US Airways also hired a publicity firm to deal with the media requests.
An official for the pilots union, for example, unsuccessfully tried to get the AP to agree, as a condition of getting an interview with the pilots, to stop referring to America West's 2005 combination with US Airways as an acquisition by America West. The union wants the deal referred to as a merger; the AP is separately reviewing the description issue.
Negotiations over media arrangements extended to Monday morning, where CBS' third-rated "The Early Show" is devoting its entire two hours to the story of Flight 1549, including interviews with the crew. ABC's "Good Morning America" was promised a live interview with the crew that would air before they appeared on CBS.
Sullenberger's representatives went back to "Today" to try for another Monday interview. But the show said the only way it would have the pilot on was if it was given a morning show exclusive, and that was refused. "Today" played its own form of hardball, landing an interview with the California mother of octuplets and scheduling it to air on Monday while its competitors talk to Sullenberger.
With all the behind-the-scenes machinations, "60 Minutes" was actually scooped — to a limited extent — by a reporter from ESPN.
The reporter, Rick Reilly, said he was standing in a hotel lobby before the Super Bowl last weekend when he recognized Sullenberger. Reilly went up to the pilot and asked him what it was like when he realized he had no engines. Reilly reported the conversation on ESPN, though there was no video.
Weber reported from Atlanta.
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