President Obama will mingle with the fashion and Hollywood elite on Thursday at a fundraiser hosted by Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue magazine. This is hardly news: the president routinely asks the rich and famous for campaign cash.
But Wintour’s hosting duties are under scrutiny today — and not because of a runway faux pas. The New York Times published a front-page story this morning about Vogue’s embarrasing profile of Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad, a high-profile member of the Assad family-Baath party dictatorship:
Magazines and online outlets have published complimentary features about the family, often focusing on fashion and celebrity. In March 2011, just as Mr. Assad and his security forces initiated a brutal crackdown on political opponents that has led to the death of an estimated 10,000 Syrians, Vogue magazine ran a flattering profile of the first lady, describing her as walking “a determined swath cut through space with a flash of red soles,” a reference to her Christian Louboutin heels.
Fawning treatment of world leaders — particularly attractive Western-educated ones — is nothing new. But the Assads have been especially determined to burnish their image, and hired experts to do so. The family paid the Washington public relations firm Brown Lloyd James $5,000 a month to act as a liaison between Vogue and the first lady, according to the firm.
None of the articles about Mrs. Assad struck a nerve quite like the 3,200-word March 2011 profile in Vogue titled “A Rose in the Desert.” In it, the writer, Joan Juliet Buck, called Mrs. Assad “the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies.”
In a phone interview, Ms. Buck said that shortly after the profile was published, she began “steadily speaking out against the Assad regime,” including in an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN and elsewhere. In April, on National Public Radio, Ms. Buck said she regretted the headline that Vogue put on the article. But she said Mrs. Assad was “extremely thin and very well-dressed, and therefore qualified to be in Vogue.”
This spring, the magazine removed the article from its Web site. On Sunday, Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, issued a statement about the article saying, in part: “Like many at that time, we were hopeful that the Assad regime would be open to a more progressive society. Subsequent to our interview, 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. The escalating atrocities in Syria are unconscionable and we deplore the actions of the Assad regime in the strongest possible terms.”
Of course, on the day of the Times piece, the buzz is that Wintour may be in line for a plum ambassadorship. For further reading, check out Mona Charen, who’s always ahead of the curve. She wrote about Mrs. Assad and Vogue back in February.