July 31st, 2012
12:49 PM ET

Tweets mock ex-Vogue writer who wrote puff piece on Asma al-Assad

As speculation goes into overdrive about whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will fall, it’s still unclear where his posh British-born wife is. Is she in England? in Syria? Is she with their three young children somewhere?

Asma al-Assad may be MIA but that didn’t stop her from inspiring, in a way, a taunting Twitter hashtag overnight.

#countriesbyvoguewriters took off after a former Vogue writer, Joan Juliet Buck, published an explainer piece in Newsweek on Monday. Buck is the author of a March 2011 piece about Asma al-Assad titled “A Rose in the Desert.” Many people attacked Buck for glamorizing the Syrian first couple and completely ignoring Syria’s history of human rights abuses.

The profile appeared in the print March 2011 version. Vogue apparently removed the story from its website later though it remains available on a pro-Assad site.

In June, Vogue's editor in chief Anna Wintour released a brief statement saying that the Syrian regime’s “priorities and values were completely at odds with those of Vogue.

Buck, for the most part, didn’t address her critics. The magazine, she said, asked her not to. But, as her Newsweek article explained, Vogue did not renew her contract at the end of 2012 and she is now free to talk.

So she begins her explanation this way, saying she just shouldn’t have gone to a country whose name gave her the willies.

"Syria. The name itself sounded sinister, like syringe, or hiss," Buck wrote.

Cue the Twitter taunts at #countriesbyvoguewriters:

The Atlantic jumped into the fun by publishing a mock profile of North Korea’s new first lady, “A Rose in the Baekdu.”

Rather than helping Buck, some critics say she’s used the shovel Vogue gave her to bury herself deeper. The New Republic said Buck's way of doing journalism is an insult to other journalists. Jezebel suggests Buck is lying to make it seem like, as she claims, the Assads "duped" her. New York magazine linked out to the hashtag. .

Despite criticism of Buck, her Newsweek story does reveal a few new and interesting tidbits about the Assads - admittedly facts that would have been interesting to include in her Vogue story.

* Asma al-Assad made children cry by lying to them that a youth center was going to close. Buck said Asma told her it was intended to get the kids “out of their comfort zone."

* The Assads enjoy family fondue. Buck joined them one evening at their glass-walled home, and asked Bashar al-Assad why he chose to study ophthalmology. He said he liked it because “it’s very precise, and there is very little blood.”

* Minders assigned to Buck by the Assads gave the journalist a cell phone when she arrived in Syria. They explained to her that her American cell phone wouldn’t work in Syria. She believed them. It never occurred to her that the phone might be used to eavesdrop on her conversations.

* Buck claims that workers at the London PR agency Brown Lloyd James worked with the Assads and prevented the journalist from reporting on the ruling family.

If those details are accurate, they add to the profile of a couple whose fate is a big question right now. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday that it wasn’t a question of whether al-Assad could fall from power, but when.

Some legal scholars have said it’s possible that Bashar al-Assad could face charges of crimes against humanity in an international courtroom. So what could happen to his wife? Could Asma al-Assad face a similar judgment day?

International law experts say that’s highly unlikely. A prosecutor would have to prove the Syrian first lady was involved in a decision-making process in her husband’s government. So far, there’s no known evidence of that.

“There’s a difference between moral responsibility and legal culpability,” said M. Cherif Bassiouni, an international war crimes expert who has worked for decades in international law and serves as a professor emeritus at DePaul University.

“She is a little like the wife of a Mafia don,” he said. “She may be with the man who kills, she can even brag about his crimes, but she won’t be punished for them.”

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Filed under: Syria
soundoff (125 Responses)
  1. Patrick

    "Syria. The name itself sounded sinister, like syringe, or hiss," Buck wrote

    She should always follow her keen instinct. Stay away from countries like Hungary, Greece and Niger. The N word, really, in this modern age.

    She should do fluff pieces on Iran(suggests physical fitness-very positive), Libya(sounds like Labia) and Chili(Who doesn't love Chile, try it on top of scrambled eggs)

    August 2, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Thessfalcon

    "Syria. The name itself sounded sinister, like syringe, or hiss," Buck wrote.
    It is amazing how a marginal writer like Buck, has demeaned 10,000 years of civilization... way to g Bucky.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Isobel

      I thought that, what an inane comment to make about the name of the country,as if it's responsible for what its leaders do! Thought some of the comments tweeted about country names as a result were really witty.

      August 5, 2012 at 5:58 am | Report abuse |
  3. John

    I wonder how it feels to look over your shoulder when you go out of your house...................for the rest of your life.

    August 3, 2012 at 9:41 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • gogoman

      she has the face of medusa.

      August 22, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. slaythedonkey

    Hey Buck! Did you approach the Syrian First Lady with the same aggressiveness and angry facial expressions as you demo in your interview? No wonder she blew you off!

    August 3, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. sigmafreud

    What a beautiful woman! Notice she never wears a burka!

    August 3, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. artcarney

    She is really a looker!

    August 4, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. 1amazed1

    Is she dumb or what? I would leave him before I got killed along with him.

    August 4, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Ratty

    what an inane statement. Stick to the facts – they are gruesome enough, or would you prefer a Syrian commentator to discuss America-ca?

    August 5, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. logicalrody

    "She's a banker, I don't trust bankers"

    what the hell are you talking about? no one cares how you judge people based on their professions. this is one of those times where I writer thinks shes more interesting than the subjects she writes about. shut your mouth and report.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:45 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Realist

    Aww...beautiful Ass-ma living in her jet-set bubble world, sending out quirky/witty comments, as her husband mass murders his citizens...how precious. I hopy young Syrians realize there is no turning back...they wil continue being a parriah state until they remove this authoritarian cancer. Globalization is tearing down all borders, language barriers, and inter-state hostilities....everyone is competing for limited resources and the old oppressive ways of controlling the population are no longer effective.

    August 6, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Flytoxin

      Agree poor poor asthma! Morphs from desert rose to snake in the grass

      August 6, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. belinda

    Asma , a possibly fatal disease. This Woman will be judged by the World. Baby killers. You can't get any more Evil than that . It's Heredity, his Father was accused of murdering 30,000 of his own people. The Devil himself. He has nuclear weapons. That should scare everyone.

    August 6, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Same Fate

    They will find him hiding in a ditch or foxhole, and beat him to a bloody pulp,She's had over a year to flee. She lovoes her power and glory from her royal marrage to the criminal. She'll be lucky to live another year. They'll stone her to death. No-one will shed a tear either. only this reporter

    August 7, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. William Lacourse

    Thanks, I have just been looking for information approximately this subject for a long time and yours is the best I've found out till now. However, what in regards to the conclusion? Are you positive about the source?

    August 18, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Eva

    I have no admiration for this Astma woman. History tells us of women like her. Keeping quiet over the evil that their husbands do just so long as they get their comfortable little world of privilege. And it alwaysl starts to unravel. It's a failure of a life. And for Vogue to gush over this couple is disappointing at the least. Fashion icons cannot expect our unquestioning admiration no matter how beautiful they may be. They are only relevant in so far as they prove themselves worthy of the public's respect.

    August 30, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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