Saturday, July 09, 2005

Mr. and Mrs. Smith of Damascus

That madcap couple, Bashar al-Assad and his lady love, Asma, get a Vanity-Fairesque celebrity puffball cover story in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine. (Not online as of this writing.) The author is James Bennet, who has very neatly morphed from biased Jerusalem bureau chief into press agent for dictators.

The "d" word, by the way, is nowhere to be found in this endlessly padded piece, illustrated with the glam couple attired casually atop their lovely penthouse overlooking Suicide Bombing Square. You'll be pleasantly surprised to know that "President Bashar Al-Assad and his Western-educated wife say they are transforming Syria into an open society."

It goes on and on like that. They say this utter rubbish and they say that line of spin, and our intrepid stenographer laps it up. Bennet essentially was functioning not as a reporter but as a typist and swill-catcher, posing softball questions and letting the carefully prepped couple spew their lies and evasions, unchallenged. It is paragraph after paragraph of Baathist propaganda, with a few obligatory "dissidents" thrown in to make it look like real journalism.

One question that is not asked, which probably would dawn on any high school civics student reading the piece, is this: "If you want to open up society, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, how's about holding elections?" Such an impolite question would, alas, have conflicted with the aim of this disgusting story, which is to shill for a bloodthirsty dictator, murderer and supporter of terrorists.

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