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:

[tweet https://twitter.com/KarlreMarks/status/229921393184235522%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/rachelhinda/status/230311043845480448%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/laclabra/status/230034234952278016%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/KarlreMarks/status/229931624438038529%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/cszabla/status/230004220395388928%5D

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. EVN

    The reporter seems more cluless than a blindfolded man in a dark cave. But remember she was writing for Vogue, that bastion of probing and well researched serious articles, so she was more than qualified to pen the puff piece.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Richard

    Female writers are a joke.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • denouemen

      Take your meds, Richard.

      July 31, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • tateman

      Are you really that ignorant or are you just a a**hole.

      July 31, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Archived

    She may be evil, but dang if she's not pretty. Oh well, string her up with her mass murdering husband. There are plenty of other lookers in the world.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Krusty

    She wanted to go to Djibouti.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  5. rockysfan

    What's to prove? She's on 60 Minutes telling with al-Assad sister telling al-Assad what to do. Pretty involved from this perspective. Sister should be on trial too. Unless she fled like the cowards all Assads are.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  6. 111Dave111

    She was very unlucky with her Vogue piece, but this attempt seems well timed. I'm not much for puff-piece authors, but firing and ridicule seem like too much. She probably should have left when she started feeling uncomfortable, then written a more authentic piece.

    Assma also should have left years ago.
    Bashar, what an idi@t. Courage would have left him in Europe with an advanced degree.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  7. spike

    Remember when Nancy Pelosi went to Syria after the 2006 congressional elections and kissed Assad's butt? Good times, good times.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. felix el gato

    Now, write something sweet about Eva Braun.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. 934934902300e

    She who mocks shall be mocked and will pay the price that her beauty has afforded her.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. kale

    In her defense, it's VOGUE. How many steely-eyed, hardened investigative journalists does Vogue really employ, or want to? I'm sure it was a "puff piece" on purpose. The most provocative thing in the article was probably the shade of lipstick the woman prefers. She was a sheep sent into the lion's den, and she did what sheep do in the presence of lions. She wrote for Vogue. We're not talking Christiane Amanpour here...

    Her idiotic comment about the word, "Syria" deserves every scornful (and funny) tweet it gets though...

    July 31, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Sotzume

    Exactly what do people expect from a Vogue article ? Anna Wintour, as have been all the editors of Vogue, is a bloody snob who would lunch with Hitler if she thought it was "chic" enough. That magazine has no other agenda but to try and paint a world wrapped in Hermes shawls. Personally I feel badly for the author. She did the job expected of her and created a puff piece that Vogue certainly didn't edit or fail to publish themselves. Now, all of a sudden, their claiming that their "values" don't mesh with Mrs. Assad's. What a laugh riot. Don't blame the messenger...that is what Vogue wanted from her and she simply did the job they paid her for. And Wintour fired her and threw her under the bus.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Stupid is as stupid does

    Really? She didn't realize the phone given to her would be bugged?

    What we she even have talked about, anyways? How pretty the Al Assad's evening wear was? What a maroon.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Yakobi

    Typical Newsweek "journalism": lie, then when caught in the lie, lie some more to cover up the first one. Glad they won't be in business very much longer!

    July 31, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. RickinCambridge

    Malaysia-sounds like Jimmy Carter is running for president again.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • DocCutty

      I like Jimmy Carter, but that's funny, Rick

      July 31, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. RickinCambridge

    From Vogue to Newsweek? Can't she get a real journalism position?

    July 31, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
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