Vogue's Profile on Asma Assad Removed from the Web

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: In Syria, one woman who is not a cause- celebre, but more of a tainted celebrity is Asma al-Assad. She's the wife of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. She is glamorous, young, and very chic, the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. So began a Vogue magazine profile of Asma al-Assad, which appeared in the magazine in March 2011. That was just before President Assad began the brutal crackdown on protests across Syria. The timing couldn't have been worse, but the article ran anyway. And now, it's stopped running at Vogue's online edition, anyway. Paul Farhi of the Washington Post has written about the Vogue profile of Asma al-Assad that has to have disappeared. Paul, what has Vogue or reporter Joan Juliet Buck said about the article and where it is?

Paul Farhi: Well first of all, Vogue has said absolutely nothing about what has happened to the article. It simply disappeared. You can't find it on Vogue's website, it's just not available. Someone in Syria snatched it up and put it on a fan page for President Assad, and that's about the only freely available copy, not terribly widely available. As far as Joan Buck, she more or less distances herself from it. She says she was horrified to be around the Assads, even though she wrote this rather fawning profile a little over a year ago.

Werman: Now you call it a fawning profile. I mean the article is called A Rose in the Desert. It offers really only one voice of skepticism about Syria's first lady and the first family that's from the French ambassador to Syria, and the timing was pretty bad, but you know, personally I found it a great peek inside the inner workings of Syria's elite. Would you call this a puff piece?

Farhi: Yes, I would because it doesn't have the context necessary to understand exactly what's going on. There was no accounting of the repression that has gone on for decades. There was no sense of the brutality of this regime, so context is important, and context was entirely lacking.

Werman: And so what's your theory on why Vogue pulled this article from their online edition?

Farhi: Just one thing – embarrassment. I think this article came out a time just before the crackdown began. It was ridiculed in a number of places and I think Vogue basically felt this was just too much for it to bear.

Werman: You know, in the old days it was hard to make articles to disappear and of course, anyone who has a paper copy of Vogue from last March still has the article, but can Vogue making a move like this really now act as if they had nothing to do with this article?

Farhi: Well, they can in so far as their website. The problem is with the website things never really truly die. Someone is always gonna snatch up a copy and archive it on their own site, and that's what you have in this case.

Werman: Right, there is a copy at some Syrian website, which we will link to at theworld.org. Vogue apparently had been bidding for some time to profile Mrs. Assad, but it's curious too that a PR firm working for the Syrian government also had a hand in the article.

Farhi: You know, the context for this was that the Syrian government was actually trying to put a good western face on itself at a time when it wasn't violently repressing its opponents. The US had just sent an ambassador back to Syria. There was a certain kind of thaw and I think the Syrians saw getting Mrs. Assad in Vogue magazine as an opening to putting a new face on the regime.

Werman: Now, Paul, some weeks ago you'll recall there were leaked emails from Bashar al-Assad's inner circle, including his wife, in which even in the midst of the Syrian government's bombing of cities like Homs, Asma al-Assad was apparently ordering of Christian Louboutin shoes online. Joan Juliet Buck's article in Vogue, however, suggests Mrs. Assad is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Do you have a sense who the real Asma al-Assad is?

Farhi: I don't, but I have a theory. The theory I have is that she joined essentially a mafia family and now she can't get out. Whether she wants to be part of that mafia family at this point is somewhat immaterial; she's part of it. You know, the mafia in this case is trying to kill all its opponents for its own survival. She's going along with the program. I'm not exactly sure how you get out of that mafia family, but that's the position she's in right now.

Werman: Paul Farhi of The Washington Post, thanks very much.

Farhi: Thank you, Marco.