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The Gay Girl in Damascus hoax, 'mass rape' in Libya, and press credulity

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Propaganda and disinformation making their way into the press is as old as the printed word, but in an era where newsrooms are thinner and there are fewer experienced reporters on the ground internationally, extraordinary claims get repeated in news reports with paltry efforts – if that – to confirm them. We're also chasing Internet "traffic" like never before. The early bird gets that traffic worm, though sometimes at the expense of getting it right.

The Amina story was a doozy, and provided immediate grounds for skepticism. But even though no one had ever spoken to or met her (all communications were by e-mail) and no Syrian activist could identify her, "Amina" quickly became a cause célèbre, and some journalists were hitting her up for quotes on what it's like to be a lesbian in Syria. US diplomats wasted time trying to track down a supposed American citizen in trouble.

Which brings us to another story that I'm skeptical about that's being reported with entirely too much certainty: the claims that Muammar Qaddafi sent out thousands of soldiers with pockets full of Viagra and condoms to mass rape Libyan women.

It isn't a hoax of the nature of Amina; it's being disseminated by Luis-Moreno Ocampo, a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, who clearly believes it's true.

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