Weekly commentary by CBS Evening News chief Washington correspondent and Face the Nation host.
During the court martial scene in the movie "A Few Good Men," young Navy prosecutor Tom Cruise put Marine Colonel Jack Nicholson on the stand and demanded the truth.
Nicholson replied, "The truth? You can't handle the truth!"
A memorable line, but we are left to as: Has the government concluded Nicholson's character was right, that Americans can't handle the truth?
As the war has grown worse, we have heard government spokesmen from the top on down tell us "Stuff happens," "Mission accomplished," "Enormous progress," "The good news is not reported."
We can't even get a straight story on how our troops die.
Last week, the Pentagon first reported that four Americans were killed in Iraq while repelling an enemy attack. Then on Friday we were told they had actually been kidnapped during a shootout and executed, two of them handcuffed and shot in the head.
In the hours after the killings, reporters who had pieced together the real story were told their version was inaccurate. The new Secretary of Defense claimed he was unaware of the new information an hour before it was announced.
The government argues that public criticism hurts the war effort, but it is being damaged much more by its own loss of credibility brought on by such incidents.
Truth is the foundation of democracy and Americans can handle the truth — they demand it. History shows that when they fail to get it, they no longer follow their leaders, no matter the cause. They are more likely to just change leaders.
By Bob Schieffer