MEDIA
07/30/2015 05:05 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2015

'Gay Girl In Damascus' Hoax Highlights Failure To Vet Sources

Quick pickup and a lack of fact-checking tarnished the coverage of various publications.

 

After it was revealed in 2011 that 40-year-old Tom MacMaster was the man claiming to be lesbian blogger Amina Arraf, who wrote the "A Gay Girl In Damascus" blog, media outlets like The Guardian were forced to issue a slew of corrections. But this isn't just a story about a hoax, says Sandra Bagaria, a woman from Montreal who developed a relationship online with MacMaster; it's about the media's failure to properly vet sources.

Bagaria is featured in the new documentary titled "A Gay Girl In Damascus: The Amina Profile," which is available to stream now. She told HuffPost Live on Wednesday that she had her doubts about Arraf's identity -- they never spoke on the phone or saw each other on video chat. But when The Guardian covered the story, she said all her reservations "got erased."

"[I thought,] 'Okay, The Guardian met her, so of course she exists. Why should I keep on doubting?'" Bagaria told host Alyona Minkovski. "But unfortunately, that's where I was wrong. The Guardian ... didn't conduct a live interview."

Bagaria said The Guardian interviewed Arraf via email rather than in person because she said she was being followed. After being reported by The Guardian, the story spread because other publications simply re-reported it without verifying it was true, Bagaria said. 

"In this case, they didn't take any time to [fact-check], neither the other ones, so it makes me [think] ... why should I spend time to actually read more news more carefully if they are not doing their job properly?" Bagaria said.  

As a self-described avid news consumer, Bagaria added that media outlets announce they are "breaking news" too liberally, which is exactly what happened in this case. 

"[The Guardian] just wanted to be the first who had a breaking interview, exclusive interview with Amina," Bagaria said. "And then [unfortunately], it got a lot of people fooled after that." 

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