Once upon a time: A Rose in the Desert

As fighting escalates in Syria and news of more atrocities–like using children as human shields–in the region accumulates, Anna Wintour is finally speaking out about that March 2011Vogue feature on Syrian’s first lady, Asma al-Assad. Al-Assad is the wife of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, and was the subject of a fawning profile penned by Joan Juliet Buck, titled “A Rose in the Desert.”

This weekend the New York Times took a look at how the al-Assads essentially hoodwinked the western media–via paid PR companies–to get favorable coverage. The Vogue piece, which the powers-that-be subsequently removed from Vogue.com in the wake of criticism, was one of the more cringe-inducing examples.

Soon after the article was published, Buck, the author (and the former EIC of French Vogue before Carine Roitfeld), started making the rounds to “speak out against the Assad regime.” But how on earth did al-Assad get that whopping 3,200 word feature in the first place? Buck told NPR back in April:

I think that Vogue is always on the lookout for good-looking first ladies because they’re a combination of power and beauty and elegance. That’s what Vogue is about. And here was this woman who had never given an interview, who was extremely thin and very well-dressed and therefore, qualified to be in Vogue. And they had – Vogue had been trying to get her for quite a long time.

This sentiment colors the entire original article, in which Buck wrote things like how “glamorous, young, and very chic” Mrs. Assad was.

It was obviously a huge tone-deaf misstep for the glossy, especially in light of Wintour’s recent, escalated political visibility within the Obama campaign. Wintour issued a statement on Sunday in which she said:

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.

Vogue has obviously been criticized in the past for being completely out-of-touch with reality. Is this statement too little too late, or do you think the glossy learned a valuable lesson

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