Writer tried to stop Vogue profile of Syria's first lady

AFP, Saturday 4 Aug 2012

The author of an article on Syrian First Lady Asma Al-Assad for a power edition of Vogue says claims she suggested they hold the article, but the magazine 'didn't think the Arab Spring was going anywhere'

Asmaa and President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria
Reuters Photo

The writer of a controversial Vogue profile of Syria's First Lady Asma Al-Assad says she urged the influential fashion magazine not to run the piece as the Arab Spring took hold.

Writing in this week's Newsweek magazine, Joan Juliet Buck said she submitted her upbeat 3,200-word story on 14 January, 2011, the day Tunisia's leader Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali fled his country in the face of an uprising.

"'The Arab Spring is spreading,' I told Vogue on 21 January," Buck recalled. "'You might want to hold the piece' [but] they didn't think the Arab Spring was going anywhere and the piece was needed for the March 'Power Issue'."

When Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak was overthrown on February 11, 2011, and protests flared in Libya, Buck -- editor of French Vogue in the 1990s -- asked to meet Vogue's managing editor "to discuss how to handle the Assad piece."

"A meeting was held without me. I was asked not to speak to the press," she said, and the article appeared on Vogue's website on 25 February headlined "A Rose in the Desert."
The piece came under fire almost immediately, with two editors at the Wall Street Journal sniping that "apparently Vogue missed the trend: dictators are out this season." It was pulled from Vogue.com earlier this year.

Buck also revealed that during her trip to Syria in December 2010 to meet the Assads -- arranged by PR firm Brown Lloyd James as Washington was restoring full diplomatic ties with Damascus -- her laptop was hacked in her hotel room.

On why she accepted the assignment, Buck wrote: "I was curious. That's why I'd become a writer. Vogue wanted a description of the good-looking first lady of a questionable country. I wanted to see the cradle of civilisation."

She added: "I didn't know I was going to meet a murderer."

No longer with Vogue, Buck made no mention of what role Vogue editor Anna Wintour or Conde Nast, the Newhouse family company that privately owns the magazine, played in commissioning and running the article.

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