CiF editor questions Anna Wintour’s fitness to be US Ambassador but avoids thorniest issue

‘Comment is Free’ editor Natalie Hanman asked a question today: Should Anna Wintour be the next US Ambassador to the UK?, CiF, Dec. 5.

Anna Wintour
Anna Wintour

Hanman begins her piece on speculation that Wintour, the editor-in-chief of American Vogue, may be nominated as Ambassador to the UK, thus:

“The rumour – and it is far from being confirmed – that Barack Obama is considering nominating Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue, as his next ambassador to either the UK or France has been met with gasps of outrage.”

Hanman quotes Nile Gardiner, in the Telegraph, questioning Wintour’s qualifications for such a prestigious diplomatic position, but then cites Carla Hall of the LA Times suggesting that criticism of Wintour’s background is unfair.

Hanman concludes by asking:

“What qualities and experience do you think qualifies someone for a job as a diplomat?”

While the question is a fair one, it seems that Hanman must have been at pains to avoid the diplomatic elephant in room: Wintour’s involvement with a notorious decision at Vogue back in 2011 to publish a glowing piece, for Vogue’s 11 million readers, about the Assads.


Here’s a passage from the Vogue story, which went to print while uprisings against the despotic regime were already under way.

“Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement. Paris Match calls her “the element of light in a country full of shadow zones.” She is the first lady of Syria.”

But, the Vogue spread didn’t merely glamorize Mrs. Assad, but the Baathist butcher as well.  Here’s a photo from the Vogue feature of the casually dressed Bashar playing with his children.

Note Assad’s fashionable jeans!

The puff piece on the Assads was met with a wave of criticism, and Vogue’s editor was accused of taking part in a PR campaign on behalf of the regime.

Indeed, according to the NYT, “the article was part of a public relations offensive launched by the Assad regime, which included paying a US public relations firm $5,000 a month for acting as a point of liaison between Vogue and Mrs Assad.”

Within a month or so, the article was removed from Vogue’s website.

However, at the site ‘’ you can find the full article, which includes this passage from the original:

Asma al-Assad empties a box of fondue mix into a saucepan for lunch. The household is run on wildly democratic principles. “We all vote on what we want, and where,” she says. The chandelier over the dining table is made of cut-up comic books. “They outvoted us three to two on that.”

But, it get’s better.

The Vogue profile on the Assads ends thusly:

Two nights later it’s the annual Christmas concert by the children of Al-Farah Choir, run by the Syrian Catholic Father Elias Zahlawi. Just before it begins, Bashar and Asma al-Assad slip down the aisle and take the two empty seats in the front row. People clap, and some call out his nickname:

“Docteur! Docteur!”

Two hundred children dressed variously as elves, reindeers, or candy canes share the stage with members of the national orchestra, who are done up as elves. The show becomes a full-on songfest, with the elves and reindeer and candy canes giving their all to “Hallelujah” and “Joy to the World.” The carols slide into a more serpentine rhythm, an Arabic rap group takes over, and then it’s back to Broadway mode. The president whispers, “All of these styles belong to our culture. This is how you fight extremism—through art.”

 Brass bells are handed out. Now we’re all singing “Jingle Bell Rock,” 1,331 audience members shaking their bells, singing, crying, and laughing.

This is the diversity you want to see in the Middle East,” says the president, ringing his bell. “This is how you can have peace!” [emphasis added]

A. Jay Adler, who posted about the Vogue spread shortly after it was published, described the piece as “the creepiest, most morally repugnant journalism of the year”, explaining further:

“Might Anna Wintour and the other editors of that glossy dross, reeking of ancien regime parfum feel more chastened now to think it, worse, in bad taste? For there were only decades to know of the barbarous tyranny of Syria’s Ba’athistregime, no different from any other party in the Middle East under that banner, with one decade of Syrian interference in Lebanon sufficient to know the nature of Assad junior.”

By June of 2012, after tens of thousands of Syrians had been murdered by Assad, Wintour was finally ready to break with the fashionable couple, explaining:

“We were hopeful that the Assad regime would be open to a more progressive society” but “as the terrible events of the past year and a half unfolded in Syria, it became clear that its priorities and values were completely at odds with those of Vogue.

It took over a year for Wintour to acknowledge that her optimism about the progressive credentials of the Assads may have been misplaced!

If Wintour is appointed US Ambassador to the UK, I simply can’t wait for the moment she has an audience with the Queen, and gets to formally present her diplomatic credentials to Her Majesty. 

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