Friday, August 05, 2011

5-Aug-11: Those glowing articles about despots? There's usually a story behind the story

Vogue Magazine, March 2011: Were the bodies of Syrian protestors,
crushed under the treads of Assad regime tanks, deleted
for aesthetic reasons?
The website of the Madison Ave PR firm Brown Lloyd James crows about its success in managing the international launch of Al Jazeera English, a product it calls "arguably one of the world's most well-known and controversial brands".

But much less publicly, the firm signed up another controversial client - the Syrian Arab Republic - in November 2010. That assignment resulted in the placing of an extremely favorable piece on the Syrian regime and its First Family, the murderous al-Assad second-generation despots, in the fashion magazine Vogue.

Because this has direct implications for the war against the terrorists, we took notice of an analysis today by the blogger Elder of Zion who disclosed details of the story behind that Syria/Vogue scandal, based in part on an expose by The Hill. For its $5,000 per month contract, Damascus was rewarded with an extraordinary piece of fluff entitled "Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert" that appeared in Vogue's March 2011 issue... just in time for the start of the the Syrian government’s relentless campaign against its millions of anti-regime protesters.  

Vogue senior editor Chris Knutsen (according to the website Fashionista) was asked to justify the fawning showcasing of one of the world's deadliest renegade states in such glowing light. (He had called Basher al-Assad “a precise man who takes photographs and talks lovingly about his first computer.” We'll leave out the gushing description of the dictator's wife.)  Knutsen stands behind the story and the decision to publish it:
“We felt that a personal interview with Syria’s first lady would hold strong interest for our readers…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.”
The smiling Assads at play (Vogue): role models for the sort of
clientele their PR firm seek to attract?
Strong interest or not, the website wiped the article shortly afterwards. (Not standard turnover for; other items from the same issue are still viewable on the site.)

It's surprising to us how surprised some people are at the way these things work.

Money is invariably behind this kind of spinning, just as it has been behind a series of decisions taken by globally-known and highly influential institutions.

For instance, the London School of Economics ("For the LSE, in thrall to a dictator, Gaddafi was pure roast duck: The school's association with Libya's leader is just an extreme version of the predicament now facing all UK universities" online here).

For instance, Britain's universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, University College London, the LSE, Exeter, Dundee and City which collectively pocketed more than £233.5 million from potentates and those closely connected to them from the Arab and Islamic world between 1995 and 2008. (See "Libya and the LSE: Large Arab gifts to universities lead to 'hostile' teaching/The LSE is not the only university that has reason to feel ashamed", online here.) From that article:
"On the most conservative estimate, other British universities have received hundreds of millions of pounds from Saudi and other Islamic sources – in the guise of philanthropic donations, but with the real intention of changing the intellectual climate of the United Kingdom." 
For instance, some of America's most prominent Ivy League and top tier universities (see "From the Muslim World, Big Donations to American Colleges; What's revealed when you follow the money?" online here). According to their analysis, the list includes
  • Georgetown University: $6,000,000 gift from Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal of Saudi Arabia “to support a chair in the Center for Muslim and Christian Understanding”; 
  • Columbia University - a gift of $1.7 million in June 2010 from Arif Naqvi, the CEO of a Dubai-based bank and a member of the Advisory Board of the Columbia University Middle East Research Center; 
  • Georgetown University again - a $20,124.955 contract from the Qatar Foundation “for the operation of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar”
  • Harvard University - two gifts from Saudi Arabia’s Abdulaziz University, both for $300,000 on in July 2010 and in January 2011; 
  • The Universities of Michigan and Virginia and Tufts dental school - gifts from Saudi Arabia’s Abdulaziz University; 
  • Georgetown University again - a contract from the Qatar Foundation in July 2010 for $42,800,000;
  • Purdue University - gifts from Qatar University in June 2010 ($350,000) and September 2010 ($6 million) from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology;
  • Yale University - $500,000 gift from Bahrain, January 2011; 
  • And numerous other prominent Western academic institutions.
Money and the things it buys change people's understanding of the Mysterious Middle East. Sometimes the payoff is a piece of flattery focused on your wife. Sometimes it much, much more sinister.

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