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When Hugo Met Naomi

Aspiring world leaders frequently summon star power to help them on the campaign trail. As we’ve seen during the current presidential primaries season, certain stars’ endorsements can critically capture the mood of individual campaigns. For example, Obama has Oprah (unity, sensitivity); Huckabee has Chuck Norris (strength, values); Hillary has Bill (experience, stability); McCain has Curt Schilling (winner, sacrifice); and Edwards has Desperate HousewivesJames Denton (soon to be off-the-air).

But presidential candidates are hardly alone in using stars to further their aspirations. This week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s bid for increased power enjoyed a star-studded bump, when British supermodel Naomi Campbell visited Chavez in Caracas, calling him a “rebel angel” who is unafraid to speak his mind.

To be fair, Campbell’s rendezvous with Chavez wasn’t technically an endorsement. After all, Campbell interviewed Chavez in her capacity as contributing editor for the British edition of GQ. Her official reason for accompanying Chavez around the Venezuelan capital was thus journalistic, not political.

Still, it’s hard to take Campbell’s career as a journalist seriously. For starters, Campbell is probably the first reporter to allow her publication to post nude photos of herself on its website. But more importantly, her interview with Chavez is a total puff piece: Campbell said she “went to interview Hugo Chavez the man,” and that she “didn’t want to judge Chavez, or probe him for his political views.” Given this facile approach, it’s no wonder that Campbell viewed Chavez as posing no threat to democracy, praising him as “fearless, but not threatening or unreasonable.”

How does this help Hugo Chavez’s campaign for world power? For the most part, Campbell’s interview with Chavez serves the same purpose as Oprah’s endorsement of Obama—it gives him immediate access to a new constituency. Thanks to Campbell, young British males can now appreciate Chavez’s opinions on fashion and pop music, and sympathize with his view that Camilla is “not as attractive” as Princess Diana. Suddenly, Hugo Chavez—the Venezuelan ruler suppressing freedoms at home and extending an arm towards Iran abroad—is humanized. Indeed, GQ’s readers will wonder, how harmful can a guy who follows the Spice Girls’ reunion tour really be?
Chavez deserves credit for orchestrating this public diplomacy ploy. By challenging a supermodel to feel his pectorals, the Venezuelan leader made himself seem likeable to a demographic that was previously inaccessible to him. Meanwhile, Naomi Campbell has joined the ranks of Jane Fonda as the latest pretty face to use her star power for the wrong cause during dangerous times.


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