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Jessica Lynch says she simply wasn’t the GI Jane superstar that desperate White House and Pentagon flacks morphed her into last March when the battle to take Baghdad was briefly bogged down in the desert.

True, Lynch wasn’t the fighting action figure extolled by a gullible press corps that gobbled up the Rove boys’ Pentagon-processed baloney. But the way this little wisp of a girl has stood up to the world’s biggest propaganda machine makes her a hero in my book. Telling the truth had to take at least a bellyful of that tried-and-true West Virginia moral courage.

Lynch’s rescue was right out of the movie “Wag the Dog” – a complex night helicopter raid executed by our best and brightest, who were saddled with and filmed by Pentagon PR camera teams to make absolutely sure that the upbeat, breaking story played on all network and cable news within hours after the dramatic Special Forces coup.

This has to be the low point in the Pentagon’s quest to sell war: Good men’s lives placed at risk for high prime-time ratings and poll-tweaking rather than military necessity.

It’s a sad but true caveat that truth is always the first casualty of war. And these days, lying to cover up training accidents, logistical screw-ups, bad tactical planning, circus-like ops and mind-numbingly dumb senior leadership seems to have become standard operating procedure. The public doesn’t need to know, the rationalizing always goes. Bad news will only demoralize them. And, just coincidentally, might not be too good for the perps, either.

Since Desert Storm – where U.S. reporters were locked in hotels unless they were escorted by Thought Police – the Pentagon has worked overtime to spin fumbles into touchdowns.

Remember Somalia, “Black Hawk Down” and a dead American soldier dragged through the Mogadishu streets? Remember a captured pilot spilling his guts on CNN? The Pentagon propaganda poets later put him on the tube and – presto chango – we were suddenly watching an American hero instead of a pilot being charged for violating the Code of Conduct.

Or take the war with Serbia and the three 1st Division yo-yos who got captured while screwing off. Upon their release – courtesy of Jesse Jackson – they, too, got the celebrity treatment: medals galore – six each! – parades and the blue-chip TV circuit instead of courts-martial for dereliction of duty.

And what about the U.S. Navy recon plane’s landing on a Red island that compromised our intelligence system and provided the Chinese with a billion dollars in top-secret gear and info? Were the crew members charged for not following prescribed security procedures and ditching their aircraft into the sea? No, they, too, were hailed with a red, white and blue homecoming.

Then there’s our president’s jet landing on the deck of a U.S. carrier within spitting distance of San Diego, followed by his strutting in naval “Top Gun” costume against the backdrop of a very premature “Mission Accomplished” sign whose authorship has now been classified Top Secret. And the chilling “Bring ‘em on” and the repeated claims that the Iraqi guerrilla attacks are signs of a “desperate” enemy.

Give us all a break, or at least those of us who know that the butch posturing and doublespeak about how well we’re doing in Afghanistan and Iraq won’t stop either the terrorist bombs over there or us worrying about when we’ll get attacked again over here.

Jessica Lynch’s sounding off has exposed a progressively more aggressive MO designed to put a winning face on a bad war.

But no matter how bad news is tilted, no matter how many hits the facts take when press restrictions are laid on snoopy reporters, the truth will always eventually surface. Within minutes after a mortar round smacks down on a U.S. position, a soldier like Lynch is usually firing off an e-mail to family, friends or someone like me.

So, Mr. President, tell your handlers to stop spinning disasters into victories, creating heroes where none exist, hiding the returning dead, trying to disappear casualties or blasting as unpatriotic those truth tellers with the guts to stand tall against this type of reality-twisting.

There’s not a shell game going that’ll get us out of this terrible war we’ve been stuck in – and now must win.

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