The Futility of Scrubbing Your Website of Regrettable Stories

More
Vogue is under fire for deleting its admiring portrait of Syria's first lady, having not absorbed the lesson of Watergate: Don't delete your mistakes.

RTXSNPP-615.jpg
Asma al-Assad, Reuters

So Vogue is under fire for deleting from its web site an admiring portrait of the dictator's wife Asma al-Assad ("glamorous, young, and very chic -- the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies"). The Washington Post article is worth reading for the light it sheds on how such reportage comes about.

 
What's surprising isn't that the world's leading fashion magazine should glorify the spouse of a brutal ruler. Consider that possibly the 20th century's greatest designer of all Coco Chanel may have been not only the lover of a the Third Reich secret agent Baron Hans Günther von Dincklage (an ostensible playboy who was actually a Scarlet Pimpernel of the Brownshirts), but an Abwehr asset in her own right. Vogue Italia evidently still has a crush on Eva Peron. And Evita and Coco were hardly the last fashion icons to gravitate to the Dark Side.

You would think that such media-sophisticated editors, knowing that political correctness was not expected of them, would have seen the folly of trying to lob this story into the memory hole, since it will no doubt be re-posted and scanned ad infinitum. Why couldn't they have just added a discreet note condemning violence against civilians and mumbling something about hoping that Ms. al-Assad will use her influence, etc.? But no, they chose a course that has just drawn attention to an embarrassment that probably would have been buried in the news cycle.

The lesson, which has been clear ever since Watergate, is don't try to delete your mistakes: if possible, own them and exploit them. The Vogue people need a tutorial from their sister publication Vanity Fair and its (still freely available) 2002 link to a Madoff feeder fund.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

A Fascinating Short Film About the Multiverse

If life is a series of infinite possibilities, what does it mean to be alive?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

From This Author

Just In