Did it cross your mind occasionally, in the past week to wonder where all of the "250,000 civilians trapped in eastern Aleppo" have gone? As the area of the city under rebel control dwindled -- by Wednesday morning the Syrian regime's troops had recaptured three-quarters of it -- did you see massive columns of fleeing civilians, or mounds of civilian dead?
If they were fleeing into the enclave the rebels still hold, you would expect the rebels to give us dramatic images of that. They certainly gave us footage of every civilian killed by Russian bombing over the past three months.
And if hundreds of thousands or even just tens of thousands were fleeing for safety into government-held territory, you would expect the regime's propagandists to be making equally striking images available.
Or maybe the civilians are all dead. Stephen O'Brien, the UN's undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, warned a week ago if Assad's forces went on advancing, "the besieged parts of eastern Aleppo" would become "one giant graveyard."
Here's a radical thought: Most of those quarter-million people were never there in the first place?
Here's a clue. There were no foreign journalists in eastern Aleppo. They were quite reasonably afraid of being kidnapped by one of the many rebel groups in the city and held for ransom -- or accused of being spies and ritually slaughtered by one of the more extreme Islamist outfits.
All the reporting out of eastern Aleppo for the past three months has been what the rebel groups wanted us to see. To them, presence of large numbers of "defenceless civilians" was their best protection against a full-scale onslaught by the regime.
So of course they gave us video of every civilian killed by a bomb, and greatly exaggerated the number of civilians in their part of the city, and rarely showed their own fighters.
It's the way propaganda works, and nobody fighting a war can afford to be too respectful of the truth. The real question is this: why did the international media fall for it?
For months, what was obviously rebel propaganda has been shown by the world's media as if it were the impartial truth. Was it just laziness, or was it subservience to a political agenda set by the West and its main allies in the Middle East? A bit of both, probably.
The U.S., Saudi Arabia and Turkey were all determined to see overthrow of al-Assad's regime, even if it did take six years of civil war and no agreement on what would replace it.
Washington pursued the dream of a democratic, secular Syria. Riyadh and Ankara wanted a victory by the Sunni Arab majority and an authoritarian Islamic state. But all agreed on the need to overthrow Assad.
Syrians were more ambivalent. Few loved the Bashar al-Assad regime, which is repressive and brutal. But many Syrians -- including many Sunni Muslims -- saw the regime as sole protection against the triumph of an even nastier Islamist dictatorship.
Various rebel groups from the Sunni areas around Aleppo stormed into the city in 2012 and won control over the eastern half, but it was never clear local residents were welcoming.
But, it was not a good idea to look too unhappy about it, so over the next four years many left the rebel-held part of the city, whose population dwindled to -- well, we don't know exactly how many remained by this year, but it was certainly not a quarter-million or anywhere near it.
And it would appear when the Syrian army retook most of eastern Aleppo in the past week, most people just stayed in their homes and waited to be "liberated." Some of them will be terrified of being arrested and tortured, especially if they collaborated with the rebels even under duress. And others will simply be relieved that it's over.
Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.