Joan Juliet Buck, pen for sale (cheap!)
The article that Vogue published about Syrian first lady Asmaa al-Assad and has long been removed from their website; an Assad cheerleader maintains a copy herethough. Titling the article “A Rose in the Desert”, Vogue journalist and former editor in chief of the magazine’s French edition Joan Juliet Buck wrote over 3200 words of love and praise and admiration and cute little couple jokes about the Assads. Asma was photographed in a purple pashmina in the sunset; another photo depicted Papa and Mama Assad playing with their kids. They bicker about their computers and cook fondue together, we were told.
It was a large PR exercise that Vogue executed beautifully. In fact, Vogue was contacted by Bashar al-Assad’s PR agency, Brown Lloyd James, to do the piece. BLJ was paid $5,000 a month just to liaise with Vogue, and a further $25,000 to organize the photoshoot.
Now, a year and a half later, Buck wants to convince us that she isn’t a pen for sale, but rather that she is, in fact, an idiot. Her latest piece is titled “Mrs. Assad Duped Me”. No, really.
Full of orientalist idiocies of the kind of “Syria was a forbidden kingdom, full of silks, essences, palaces, and ruins” – to justify why she took the assignment, the article introduces new adjectives to describe Asma al-Assad. She is no longer “the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies”; now, she is “a murderer”. Then “precise man” Bashar, who was “tall, long-necked, blue-eyed” is now “the devil”. And his neck, for that matter, is now so repulsive to her to her that it “looked like something you might glimpse breaking the water in a Scottish loch”.
While at first, “out in the desert are the magical remains of Palmyra, Apamea, and Ebla”, suddenly all Buck sees is a “Syria. The name itself sounded sinister”. While Syria’s politics were simply “shadow zones”, now the shadow is no longer and Buck sees clearly “that the country’s more recent past was grim, violent, and secretive”. And the “desert rose” is now “the first lady of hell”. Pity.
The entire piece is a large rewriting of the original one, only highlighting all the bad moments and negative traits – and at times, even re-using the very same quotes from the original article, only this time in italics, punctuated by multiple full-stops to give the impression of someone. speaking. very. slowly. Or perhaps whispering something secretive or sordid.
The article, as well as its epilogue which talks about events in Syria since the beginning of the revolution, completely contradict her central thesis – that she should be forgiven for writing PR shit because “she was duped”. But then, if she’s rewriting all the dark details of her visit, why not then? Why not mention that her computer was hacked? That she was followed by the police all the time?
Why. Play. The. PR. Game? (lol.)
Joan Juliet Buck isn’t an idiot. She is a pen for sale to the highest bidder. The reason she wrote this new article is because she is now out of a job, after Vogue (rather cowardly) dumped her. And the public is unlikely to fall for it twice. If she has that little journalistic integrity, I hope it will be difficult – nay, impossible – for her to find a job in any self-respecting publication. I hope however much she was paid for this PR exercise will suffice to keep her afloat for a while.
Silver lining (for us readers): Buck’s ridiculous description of “Syria. The name itself sounded sinister, like syringe, or hiss” (she really wrote that!) has led to an excellent hashtag on twitter: #CountriesByVogueWriters. Priceless.