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. Ozzy

    Vogue writing about Syria –is like Sarah Palin attending the G20 summits. I hardly think the subject matter was one of serious nature–only to 'fatten up' an upcoming issue with some content

    July 31, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Logic

    If she didn't realize this guy was a cold blooded killer before this year, then she needs to go back to journalism school. Word to the wise, don't do any puff pieces on dictators' families.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Woody

    Asma is the Carmella Soprano of the Middle East. All those spoils she enjoys are at the expense and blood of the Syrians her husband is murdering.

    She needs to dangle from a designer noose right alongside Dear Hubby.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JCMars

    Buck has absolutely no credibility in this interview. She was duped? No she was just plain stupid. She should be strung up with al-Assad and his wife. Her crime is being too stupid to live. We need to clean the gene pool on this one.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. insi10

    "They had known each other forever, but a ten-year age difference meant that nothing registered—until it did."

    Like, "Momma, I want some dicktater"

    July 31, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobby

      I love this post......fyi "So what could happen to his wife? Could Asma al-Assad face a similar judgment day?" .....pooornn.

      July 31, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. M.E.

    Vogue is not about good journalism or indeed being in touch with reality. If you're reading it for informative political stories, you're barking very much up the wrong tree. Vogue consists of a few pointless, fanciful, and frequently lightly un-PC sentences strung between hundreds of pages worth of stunning fashion photography and a few ads aimed at the grasping underclasses who buy the magazine for aspirational purposes. I grew up looking at (note I don't say reading) Vogue so I realize that it's not about the words. It seems some people don't realize that though.

    I love to laugh at how out of touch Vogue is (Veuve Cliquot Polo Classic on Long Island anyone? Last week's ill timed Batman themed nail designs?) but the fact of fashion is the higher you get in high fashion, the farther your feet get from the ground. It's why outbursts and meltdowns happen more frequently than in other arts. The highs are so high that any concept of reality is lost. It's just the nature of the beast. So when you get Vogue trying to handle politics, the end result is interviews with glamorous dictators wives. Don't READ Vogue, LOOK at Vogue.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • touche

      Well put. Anyone reading Vogue for political information, or actually writing for Vogue and trying to call themself a journalist...well it's just pathetic.

      July 31, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kevin

    'Let them eat hummus", eh, Asma?

    July 31, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Cesar The Chorizo Champ Of Chihuahua

    The empty aluminum cylinders Syrian's call "missiles" glisten in the burning noonday sun as they fly through the humid midday air near the tops of palm trees that hang like neon green lampshades. These are the missiles out of Syria. They always come this way.

    July 31, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JC

    Vogue has values?

    July 31, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  10. The Writeswift Blog

    Who is this self-proclaimed quasi-journalist Buck sleeping with anyway to get her name in print in Newsweek? I could write circles around her... and still maintain my ethics.

    July 31, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. longtooth

    Vogue is for people like an old friend of mine, a gorgeous but empty-headed girl who said, " I just like what ever is in style." Whatever. I am officially offering sanctuary to Asma, because she's pretty.

    July 31, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • M.E.

      You don't have to be completely empty-headed or into whatever's on trend. The photography is frequently breathtaking, like National Geographic traded the Serengeti for Parisian salons. Yes, many people take it for the fashion trends, but publications like Elle and Marie Claire are a better choice for that. Vogue is sheer, unadulterated, haute couture art.

      July 31, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jv

    Djibouti. The name sounds like the fantasy world Republicans live in

    July 31, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Lanfear

    Canada – eh?

    July 31, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Northernstar

    Does anyone read Vogue for International insight. Why would you be surprised that the article was a "fluff" piece managed by the Syria government.

    July 31, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  15. daveinla

    She wrote other articles too: "Pol Pot: Angel of the Jungle" and "Edi Amin: Cooking up Something Good in Uganda."

    July 31, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
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