Photo: (Photo by Salah Malkawi/ Getty Images)
Spot the difference in these two pieces about the wife of the Syrian president, Bashar Hafez al-Assad:”Asma al-Assad is a glamorous, young, and very chic – the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement… She’s breezy, conspiratorial, and fun.”
Asma al-Assad is “a good-looking woman of 35… as brisk as a prefect, as on-message as a banker, as friendly as a new acquaintance at a friend’s cocktail party… like the kind of young Englishwoman you’d hear having lunch at the next table at Harvey Nichols… the first lady of hell.”
The first quote was from a Vogue article in March 2011 headlined “A rose in the desert.” The second from a Newsweek/Daily Beast article on Monday headlined: “Mrs Assad duped me.” The writer in both cases was Joan Juliet Buck, an experienced fashion journalist and one-time editor-in-chief of French Vogue.
Her first article, published as Syria’s government started to attack citizens, was met with a wave of criticism. Both Buck and Vogue’s editor, Anna Wintour, were accused of taking part in a public relations campaign on behalf of the Syrian regime.
Within a month or so, the article was removed from the magazine’s website. Almost a year later Wintour broke her silence on the matter to explain that “we were hopeful that the Assad regime would be open to a more progressive society” but “as the terrible events of the past year and a half unfolded in Syria, it became clear that its priorities and values were completely at odds with those of Vogue.”
Buck’s contract with Vogue was not renewed and that’s when she decided to offer an a 5,000-word explanation for her original sin.
It suggests that she was the victim of of manipulation from beginning to end. She initially rejected the assignment; claimed she didn’t know she was going to meet a murderer; and was taken in by Asma al-Assad’s glossy presentation of herself as a cosy, modern, relaxed person.
But Styleite writer, Hilary George-Parkin, is not impressed with Buck’s mea culpa. She writes:
“It is not hard to imagine this kind charade fooling a rookie journalist. But, of course, that is hardly what Buck was at the time. She goes on, however, to reveal further manipulation by those surrounding the Assads, including a hacked computer, carefully-monitored cell phone given to her at the start of her trip, and leaked emails between PR reps discussing the need to conceal any potentially damaging information. None of these points were mentioned in the profile… raving about Asma al-Assad’s elegant wardrobe, posh stature, and democratic parenting style.”
And Homa Khaleeli, writing in a Guardian blog, was also contemptuous of Buck’s attempt at exculpation: “The mea culpa is almost as disastrous as the initial interview”, she writes.
“It’s hard to tell if Buck asked Asma – or Bashar whom she also met – any real questions at all. Certainly not why anyone would marry a man whose father slaughtered 20,000 people in three weeks… She did not ask why her phone and computer were bugged, or even why she had spotted something that looks like a mobile prison in the souk.”
Khaleeli continues: “To be fair to Buck she does explain that she had not wanted to meet the Assads, but Vogue told her they wanted no focus on politics at all… It seems clear that Vogue is equally to blame for the controversy.”
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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