x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Asma Al Assad: Syria's thorny rose

The author of a fawning Vogue profile of Syrian first lady Asma Al Assad last year is now desperately trying to retract her words.

Hindsight isn't always 20-20; especially when you're not prepared to admit to an error of judgement. Joan Juliet Buck - who wrote a fawning Vogue profile of Syrian first lady Asma Al Assad, headlined The desert rose, published in January 2011 - is now desperately trying to dig herself out of a hole. Newsweek magazine has given her the space to dig.

In an article that's less mea culpa, more a transparent attempt to shift the blame, the excuses come thick and fast: she never wanted to go in the first place, but the place was "hip" and famous people like Brad Pitt and Sting had been there, and "when else would I get to see the ruins of Palmyra?" (although she never did). Finally, after her return from being feted by the Assads and their PR people, as the Arab spring escalated, she tried to have the article pulled but was overruled.

Buck dances around the fact that she was duped, reluctant to own her naivety and lack of research, grasping at any opportunity to excuse her poor journalism. She does indeed dig herself deeper after the first error.

There is a lesson here, especially for the many "Middle East experts" who have parachuted into the region. Healthy scepticism never hurts. Most of all, be honest about mistakes - you may have been gulled, but that doesn't mean your readers will be.