Pity poor Joan Juliet Buck, Vogue stalwart and roving editor, who has come under intense scrutiny following her now infamous Vogue article on Asma Assad, wife of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad. Written and published shortly before civil war broke out, Buck’s glowing profile, entitled “A Rose in the Desert,” now looks impossibly ill judged. History will remember Asma as the consort of a ruthless dictator, and Vogue as being on the wrong side of the story.
But now Buck is fighting back. Sick and tired of having her name ridiculed as the author of the ultimate PR puff piece, she has broken her silence and given her version of how the article came about. It seems her editors at Vogue misinterpreted the Arab spring as a storm in a teacup, as did the rest of the world. Buck’s explanation makes compelling reading. Published on The DailyBeast with an accompanying broadcast interview, Buck portrays herself as a writer uneasy with what she has been tasked to do but who went on regardless.
The blame, it seems, lies in equal parts. Buck is very clear that politics and foreign relations were not her area of expertise. She writes that she visited Syria “and understood nothing.” Though not entirely seduced by her hosts and wary of phone taps and hacks into her laptop, she was more concerned with filing her story than exploring simmering discontent. Buck paid the price, with Vogue severing relations with her after more than twenty years.
The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) to Joan Juliet Buck for an insightful and fascinating read. She lets the facts speak for themselves. No one is covered in glory.
The PR Takeaway: In matters of setting the record straight, focus less on blame and more on letting facts speak for themselves. Buck has endured substantial personal and professional ridicule since her article was published. Her version of events is a thrilling read. She portions little blame but makes the point that it’s easy to be wise after the event. The Assads were visited by Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Sting, Angelina and Brad, and Francis Ford Coppola during their PR push. Hindsight is a wonderful thing; Buck’s reputation may not be so damaged after all.