American Vogue's fawning, and roundly criticized, profile of Asma al-Assad, the First Lady of Syria, got me thinking about the almost-funny and totally abject stupidity of so much of that luxury rag's "coverage" of "serious" world events. From puff-pieces about dictatorships to homeless chic, models posed as oil-slicked birds to an urban guerilla fashion story, Vogue really has done it all! Never mind the fact that nobody in their right mind would ever pick it up for its up-to-the-minute reports from Benghazi: willful obliviousness on this scale has to be seen to be believed.
So, that Vogue profile! Did you know that the First Lady of Syria is "glamorous, young, and very chic — the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies"? And also, as evidenced by photojournalist James Nachtwey's accompanying pictures, very blonde? Did you know that Syria is "a secular country where women earn as much as men and the Muslim veil is forbidden in universities, a place without bombings, unrest, or kidnappings"? Did you know that the president was elected "with a startling 97 percent of the vote"? Wow, what an awesome, peaceful, equitable, stable place Syria must be to live! Except, as numerous news sources promptly pointed out, the Syrian regime keeps itself pretty busy doing things things like helping assassinate foreign leaders, trying to arm Hezbollah with scud missiles, and ruthlessly suppressing any sign of domestic dissent under "emergency laws" that have been in effect since 1963.
No sooner had that bit of puffery gone to press, however, than Vogue — and the Assad regime — found itself being overtaken by events. Heard about the unrest in Syria? Here's how the New York Times described some of the first demonstrations, last month: