Can the PR – Get the Facts

AUSTIN, Texas – CBS News has acquired tapes of Enron employees boasting about how they were "f*****g over" California during the late, great "energy crisis" there.

My favorite segment in these charming conversations is the dismay at Enron when local utilities try to get the money back. "They're f*****g taking all the money back from you guys?" inquires an Enronite. "All the money you guys stole from those poor grandmothers in California?"

"Yeah, Grandma Millie, man."

"Yeah, now she wants her f*****g money back for all the power you've charged right up, jammed right up her a** for f*****g $250 a megawatt hour."

Grandma Millie. The nerve of her. Imagine thinking it's wrong to rig a market and overcharge by billions of dollars. But hey, no worries at Enron, because George W. Bush is about to be elected president. "It'd be great. I'd love to see Ken Lay secretary of energy."

"When this election comes, Bush will f*****g whack this s**t, man. He won't play this price-cap bulls**t."

Bush said obligingly in May 2001, "We will not take any action that makes California's problems worse, and that's why I oppose price caps."

Bush eventually changed course, as he so often does, which adds such special piquancy to his campaign against John Kerry for "flip-flopping."

Since we're having a bad language day, I may as well quote Ben Bradlee, longtime editor of The Washington Post, who had a great fondness for "Holy s**t!" stories, meaning those where your reaction is, "And I thought I'd heard everything!"

I thought I'd heard everything about Ahmad Chalabi, the con man who conned the neo-cons in the Bush administration, collected more than $33 million in payments from the State Department and Defense Department for bad information, and snookered The New York Times about weapons of mass destruction. Wow, turns out he did more damage than that – he told the Iranians we'd cracked their intelligence code, thus blowing our most valuable intelligence asset in the Middle East.

Not being a Washington reporter myself, I can only read the tealeaves from afar. There appears to be a significant split between the military and both the Bushies in the Pentagon and in the White House. It's safe to say most of those now running the military earned their stars and bars in Vietnam, from which they took away two overwhelming lessons. The first is that if you're going to go to war, go in to win – go in with "overwhelming force," as Colin Powell did in Gulf War I. The second is, "Have an exit strategy," figure out ahead of time how you're going to get out. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, along with his Pentagon buddies Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Ken Adelman, etc. decided this hard-earned wisdom could be tossed out the window. That made the brass unhappy. Not to mention killing a lot of people.

So now what we're looking at is one of those underwater struggles among various bureaucratic behemoths involved in some hideous internecine conflict of which we can see nothing except roiled water, as though several Loch Ness monsters were going at it deep out of sight.

I have no idea where the sad case of Pat Tillman, the patriotic football player, fits into this, but I'd bet it's connected. It takes nothing away from the heroism of Tillman, who gave up a highly remunerative pro football career to serve his country after 9-11, that he is now reported to have been killed by friendly fire. Anyone who was around for Vietnam knows these things happen. The troubling part is the initial story we were fed about how Tillman was killed by the enemy in heroic action in Afghanistan and so was given a posthumous Silver Star. Again, the new information takes nothing away from Tillman, although it does raise some questions about the "elite unit" in which he served.

War is full of tragedy tinged with terrible irony. It's making stuff up afterward for public relations purposes that is so offensive. Jessica Lynch is a classic example.

As I have noted before, one of the most admirable traits of the American military is its commitment to going back after the firing has stopped and the dust has settled to figure out what actually happened, so it might be done better next time. (The after-report on the Grenada episode is a classic of the genre.)

We have just finished dedicating the memorial in Washington to "the Good War," and all honor to those who served in it. But they, too, had their tragedies and their ironies. The military understands, if the White House does not, that what is, finally, most important is to get it right.

Can the PR – get the facts.

Molly Ivins writes for Texas Observer.

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