NO LONGER IN VOGUE: Joan Juliet Buck’s profile of Asma al-Assad in the March 2011 Vogue has gotten a lot of attention lately. Again.
Lost in the uproar is the fact that Buck hasn’t been with the magazine where she’s written for nearly 40 years, since December. In February, Vogue stopped listing her as a contributing editor. The writer and the magazine confirmed the end of their professional relationship.
Buck has instead busied herself with other writing assignments and tweeting her newfound awareness of the atrocities in Syria.
Buck, the daughter of a film producer, has had a charmed career in publishing for decades. She’s been at Condé Nast almost as long as Eustace Tilley, flitting from magazine to magazine since 1968, first at Glamour, later at Vanity Fair, and then French Vogue, where she was editor in chief for seven years. Her first byline in American Vogue dates to 1973, on a story titled “London Fast-Talk.” In 2003, she signed a contract as a contributing editor.
Their relationship was highly productive and mutually beneficial. She averaged more or less a piece a month, and extensive ones: 3,000 words on Carolina Herrera one month! 3,000 more on Barbara Walters another! For Vogue, she was a reliable source of friendly, if forgettable copy on tasteful ladies. The Assad profile, however, did not go unnoticed outside the magazine’s regular readers. While the profile had a cursory mention of Syria’s surveillance of its people, it fawns over the first lady, who is described as a “thin, long-limbed beauty.”
The story drew instant condemnation and mockery, coming as it did just as Syria had began a brutal crackdown of a rising dissident movement. Vogue was so unstylishly red-faced over the story that it scrubbed it permanently from its Web site.
Then in December, after nine years on the masthead, Buck’s contract was not renewed. Did Anna Wintour push her out over the bad press? Was Buck overcome with guilt over the profile? A spokeswoman for Vogue said her contract was up. “Simple as that,” she said, exclamation point implied. Buck confirmed her contract had expired, though she declined to elaborate. If she had a relationship with Wintour before the piece, it is no more.
“The last time I saw Anna was at a screening maybe a year ago,” she said.
In The New York Times last week, Wintour said Vogue understood its values were “at odds” with the despotic regime’s only after the publication of the profile. Buck did not clarify if she’d pitched the piece or had been assigned it. But she certainly seemed to become more outspoken about Syria once her Vogue contract expired.
Her Twitter feed used to be typical for the socially aware celebrity intellectual, a mix of exchanges with Tina Brown and Salman Rushdie, running commentary of the Oscars and a couple of references to Occupy Wall Street, just to mix things up.
“NBC has shut down production on my favorite new show of the year, ‘Prime Suspect.’ Ridiculous decision” — was a typical entry.
Then in December, she started bringing up news reports on Syria, and the tenor of her criticism got increasingly strident. In April, she told NPR that it was “horrifying” standing next to the Assads. Now her Twitter feed reads like it’s pipelined into the Reuters wire, with near constant updates on the imminent civil war in Syria. There have been no more complaints about canceled TV shows.
While she’s been broadcasting hew new social awareness, one retweet at a time, she’s also busy with projects this year, like continuing her contributions to “T: The New York Times Style Magazine.”
Reached at her home in New York last week, Buck said she didn’t have time to comment on her relationship with Vogue. “I’m on deadline,” she said. Given her new interests, who was she writing for? The Nation? Mother Jones? No, Buck said, the piece was for W.