Creative license

Variety editorial

The “Saving Private Lynch” saga gets weirder by the day.

Lynch, you will recall, is the Army private rescued from an Iraqi hospital. Early media accounts initiated by the military portrayed her as the ultimate heroine, suffering gunshot and stab wounds as she mowed down Iraqi soldiers with her M-16. The Lynch story fired up troops and helped counter anti-war protests at home. Amid the tidal wave of media coverage, NBC made a pact to do a TV movie.

In the months since, revisionist history has crept into the Lynch affair.

CBS and the New York Times clashed this week after the paper cited letters it obtained in charging the network tried to bribe Lynch for an interview. “Unlike the New York Times’ own ethical problems, there is no question about the accuracy or integrity of CBS News’ reporting,” the net huffed in a statement.

The trouble is much broader than intra-media squabbles. It has to do with government manipulation of the public.

The Washington Post, whose early reporting on Lynch helped venerate her supposed swashbuckling, pointed out in a startling article on Tuesday that she neither was stabbed nor did she kill anyone. Her fabled gun jammed.

U.S. Special Operations forces used an unnecessarily elaborate rescue plan, the Post now contends. The strategy was to create a photo-op that would thrust a living symbol of patriotic valor into the battle for hearts and minds.

“The rescue turned into a Hollywood concept,” conceded one unnamed military public affairs officer.

If the concept in March seemed like “Courage Under Fire” or “Behind Enemy Lines,” the best storyline now would be more “All the President’s Men.”

Will NBC have the resolve to air that kind of movie? In the current climate, that would count as an act of extraordinary patriotism — just not the kind propagated by the Pentagon.