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Syria 'Expert' Cited by Kerry Is Fired—and Now, 'Wag the Dog'? | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

Syria 'Expert' Cited by Kerry Is Fired—and Now, 'Wag the Dog'?


A member of a rebel group called the Martyr Al-Abbas throws a handmade weapon in Aleppo on June 11, 2013. (Reuters/Muzaffar Salman)

The saga of Elizabeth O’Bagy reached a kind of climax last night—for now—when CNN’s Jake Tapper linked her to one of my favorite movies of recent years, Wag the Dog. Read the whole, improbable piece online, but this stands out:

It’s all part of the weird world of Washington—a doctor who is not a doctor writes an op-ed testifying for the rebels, without disclosing that she is paid for by a rebel advocacy group, and her words are seized as evidence by experts—Kerry and McCain.

O’Bagy, you may recall, wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal recently, IDed as simply an expert with the “non-partisan” Institute for the Study of War. Her piece was allegedly based on up-close research, contending that the rebels in Syria were far more touchy-feely and moderate than their reputation as largely jihadists who like to meet atrocity with atrocity. In his first push for war, Secretary of State John Kerry cited her piece, then so did Senator John McCain and numerous other hawks.

Suddenly a media star, O’Bagy appeared on TV shows, referred to as “Dr. O’Bagy.” Few pointed out that the Institute was a typical hawkish neocon outfit that would be fully expected to produce pieces such as the one O’Bagy penned.

Then it all fell apart.

First, it turned out that part of her work had been paid for by groups supporting the Syrian rebels.

Then the depth of her experience in Syria and general expertise were called into question by journalists who had spent a great deal of time in the region. Reuters produced a piece challenging her views on the “moderate” rebels.

Yesterday, the Institute fired the “Dr.” for lying about having a PhD.

Tapper’s Wag the Dog column was the final nail in the coffin. But will Willie Nelson, as in the movie, write a theme song for her?

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The Wall Street Journal finally did acknowledge her link to the Syrian rebels—but as Frank Rich tweeted last night, will they probe their failure to mention this when her piece ran, and will they now apologize? Also, will we hear from Kerry and McCain on this matter?

My book on how  the media gave us Iraq, So Wrong for So Long, now out in a new edition, and as e-book for first time.

George Zornick critiques the Senate’s new bill on Syria.

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