The PJ Tatler

'Gay Girl in Damascus' hoaxster gives media another excuse to dismiss blogs

Thanks, Tom McMaster. Thanks a lot.

For nearly a week, the world followed the saga of Amina Arraf, the blogger who was celebrated for her passionate, often intimate writings about the Syrian government’s crackdown on Arab Spring protesters. Those writings stopped abruptly last Monday, and in a posting on her blog, “A Gay Girl in Damascus,” a cousin said Amina had been hauled away by government security agents.

News of her disappearance became an Internet and media sensation. The U.S. State Department started an investigation. But almost immediately skeptics began asking: Had anyone ever actually met Amina? On Wednesday, pictures of her on the blog were revealed to have been taken from a London woman’s Facebook page.

“She” turned out to be a lefty Mennonite peace activist male living in Georgia, who when caught out, went for the “fake but accurate” defense first deployed by Dan Rather.

On Sunday, MacMaster apologized on the blog. “While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on thıs blog are true and not mısleading as to the situation on the ground,” he wrote. “I do not believe that I have harmed anyone — I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about.”

Other than undermining the credibility of other legitimate courageous Middle Eastern bloggers, and of bloggers generally, sure, Tom, you haven’t hurt anyone. And there’s no harm from the the standard MSM handwringing about what awfully untrustworthy folks those bloggers are.

The hoax raises difficult questions about the reliance on blogs, tweets, Facebook postings and other Internet communications as they increasingly become a standard way to report on global events. Information from online sources has become particularly important in coverage of the Middle East uprisings, especially in countries that severely restrict foreign media — or that use social media against protesters.

That’s from the same media that’s currently scouring Sarah Palin’s old emails, which still hasn’t demanded any of Barack Obama’s paper trail, and which just spent about 10 days not reporting on the Anthony Weiner scandal until blogs forced them to. Spare us the noise about blogs’ reliability.

The proper MSM response to this should be to dismiss lefty blogs and blogs that seem too good to be true (because they usually are). From Media Matters to Kos to this guy in Georgia pretending to be in Syria, lefty blogs and bloggers do tend to be unreliable hothouses where ideology trumps facts. They come up with ever more arcane theories to protect Democrats at the expense of facts. Meanwhile, blogs of the right tend to do actual reporting and let the facts lead wherever they may. You know, that thing called “journalism.”