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Syria, Vogue, and the Apologia of Joan Juliet Buck

July 31st, 2012 - 12:26 am

But fate was cruel, and so were Buck’s interlocutors. Buck now recounts that she was deceived by the Assads; that she expressed pre-publication misgivings which she says were ignored by Vogue; and when Vogue asked her not to talk about her piece, “I kept my word and did not speak to the press.” Nonetheless, at the end of 2011 Vogue did not renew her contract. Apparently those were desperate times: “I was now free to react to the Syrian carnage with the only medium I had: Twitter.”

Fascinating. But all this implies a set of priorities in which it was more important to pander to fashion (or at least to Vogue) than it was to tell the truth about a murderous tyranny.

And what Buck wrote, in her “Rose of the Desert” rhapsody on Asma, was not actually a piece about fashion, or culture. It was a high-profile paragon of political propaganda, presenting the Assad regime as open, glamorous, vibrant, led by a refreshingly democratic first family, shod by Christian Louboutin, and accessorized ever so tastefully with Syrian silk and Chanel. All this came on the heels of reports the previous year that Asma al-Assad had invited the Obamas to dignify the Assad regime with a U.S. presidential visit to Damascus — subject of a fawning article in 2010 on the Huffington Post (dwelling on the charms of Asma’s “natural look and classic style”). Whether Asma’s decision to host a writer from Vogue had anything to do with trying to entice the Obamas to Syria, we don’t know. But Buck’s coverage, long on enticements and lean on realities, would hardly have been a deterrent.

What about the use of the medieval torture rack in Syrian prisons, the terrorists bunking down in the capital, and the North Koreans testing missiles out back? In Buck’s story for Vogue, such matters were either glossed over in passing (Syria, “a place without bombings, unrest or kidnappings, but its shadow zones are dark and deep”) or figured as intriguing bric-a-brac (“There are souvenir Hezbollah ashtrays in the souk and you can spot the Hamas leadership racing through the bar of the Four Seasons.”)

If Buck was unhappy, as she says she was, with Vogue’s plans to run the piece, or with the headline Vogue gave it, she had options other than compliance and silence. She could have pulled the piece before it ran, or publicly recanted and apologized as soon as it came out. Instead, more than a year later, she now explains: “I didn’t want to write this piece. But I always finished what I started.”

By these lights, she was the victim. Faithful to Vogue, faithful to her own work ethic (and her desire to see the ruins of Palmyra). They made her do it!

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