It’s no secret that American Vogue Editor-In-Chief Anna Wintour has been in the political spotlight of late because her support of the Obama campaign and the (probably bogus) rumors that she could become an ambassador. But that’s not the only reason. As you may have heard, Wintour and Vogue have been under fire since February 2011 for a profile of Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad, which glorified her opulent lifestyle and dubbed her “a rose in the desert”.
Wintour, who has been mum about the controversy since the story was pulled from the Vogue site almost immediately after it was published, finally issued this statement about the article Sunday:
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.
At first, the article, which was written by former French Vogue EIC Joan Juliet Buck and came out in the midst of the series of uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East known as the Arab Spring, seemed like it was simply ill-conceived and badly timed. However, a The New York Times article from this weekend reveals there was much more to it.
Washington public relations company Brown Lloyd James, which has been behind several presidential campaigns, had been pocketing $5,000 a month from the Assads in exchange for helping the family create a rosy image of themselves in Western media. According to the NYT, the firm acted as an adviser to the family, as well as a liaison between Asma Al-Assad and Vogue.
This might explain why Buck’s article raved about how beautiful, elegant, and well-spoken the first lady is and yet completely omitted details about the cruel world that exists just outside her door. Her husband, whose family has been in power since 1971, is a dictator who is known to have killed thousands of Syrians to quell uprisings.
Buck later said in an interview with Piers Morgan that she did not want to write the article on the Assads, and began to speak out about the regime after her visit to Syria.
The idea that the family of a dictator has been buying good press is, at the very least, disturbing. But what is possibly even more unsettling is the fact that such a large publication and an experienced journalist were so easily swayed by the workings of a PR firm.