The Atlantic’s Max Fisher tracked down and interviewed Vogue senior editor Chris Knutsen, who unabashedly stood by the magazine’s fawning March cover story on Asma al-Assad, the wife of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad:
“We felt that a personal interview with Syria’s first lady would hold strong interest for our readers,” he said. “We thought we could open up that very closed world a very little bit.” When I asked why they chose to dedicate so much space to praising the Assads without at least noting his brutal practices, he explained, “The piece was not meant in any way to be a referendum on the al-Assad regime. It was a profile of the first lady.” He noted the country’s difficult media restrictions and touted the article’s passing reference to “shadow zones,” saying, “we strived within those limitations to provide a balanced view of the first lady and her self-defined role as Syria’s cultural ambassador.”
The article, which portrays the Syrian leader and his wife as enlightened liberal democrats, is in poor taste to begin with. That its publication coincided with al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters makes the piece appear even more tone-deaf and insulting.
But Vogue seems to be unfazed by the PR disaster. When Fisher asked Knutsen whether the magazine would print a profile of the wife of Kim Jong-Il, the editor even refused to dismiss the possibility. “That’s the kind of hypothetical that — we really do that on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
And while Knutsen did grudgingly admit that al-Assad was an autocrat, he did so only when pressed by Fisher. “Yeah. I would call him an autocrat,” he said. “[T]here’s no freedom there.”
Vogue clearly doesn’t grasp the problem. But at least we can take solace in the fact that the magazine doesn’t weigh in on issues of any substance.