The Assads’ Media Appeal, Explained

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's wife Asma gestures as she speaks at the Bristol hotel on December 11, 2010 in Paris. Al-Assad is on a two-days official visit to France. AFP PHOTO MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

You know those studies that say people who are more attractive do better in the workplace? This, apparently, also qualifies if your line of work is propping up a brutal regime. The Times investigated the question of why, exactly, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and his wife Asma had been received so kindly by the Western press, Asma in particular, who received a glowing profile in Vogue even as the situation in her country was going seriously pear-shaped. (Barbara Walters is the latest to have been caught up in the Assad PR tangle.)

Sure, there were the highly paid Western PR firms, which helped the Assads’ image, but source Andrew Tabler, of the Institute for Middle Eastern Studies in Washington, didn’t beat around the bush when talking about the couple’s appeal to the media over here: “He speaks English, and his wife is hot.” We buy it — the Assads aren’t the first despicable couple to get famous over here on those basic qualifications — remember Spencer and Heidi?

Meanwhile, editor Anna Wintour issued a statement to the paper on Sunday in which she decried the Syrian regime’s brutality. “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.” But as for why Asma got the Vogue treatment, originally, author Joan Juliet Buck presented a peek at the editorial logic to NPR listeners back in April. Assad, she said, is “extremely thin and very well-dressed, and therefore qualified to be in Vogue.” 

The Assads’ Media Appeal, Explained