Ambassador Anna Wintour: why Obama could be tempted
Does she really want it? Would she be any good? And, anyway, who would edit US Vogue?
NEW YORK and Washington are reveling in the rumour floated yesterday by Bloomberg News that Anna Wintour, editor of US Vogue for the past 25 years, is on President Obama's list of candidates to become US Ambassador to either Paris or London.
London would complete a round trip for Wintour, 63, who although now a US citizen, was born British, the daughter of Charles Wintour, long-serving editor of the Evening Standard in its heyday.
Not many of the multitude of British media folk who have crossed to pond to find fame and fortune have made it quite as big as Wintour, and none has yet been sent home to the Court of St James in triumph as US ambassador.
It boggles the mind. After all, this is 'Nuclear' Wintour, so called for her inscrutability and cold, lofty manner. She is better known to the public because of Meryl Streep's acid performance in the movie The Devil Wears Prada than for any real-life skills as an editrix. Charm, tact and wily persuasion - the skills of diplomacy – are not her trademark.
But as Bloomberg suggests, we are all on the wrong track if we assume that Obama, a dapper fellow with a wife who has also proved herself something of a fashion maven, is choosing Wintour for the cut of her coat or reputation in the ateliers of Paris.
He would, it seems, be rewarding her as a big-time donor to his re-election campaign.
There is nothing new in that: American embassies have always been doled out as post-election rewards. Bloomberg reports that Wintour was among his biggest "bundlers" of donations, raising at least $500,000 hosting very, very exclusive parties for Obama at the homes of Sarah Jessica-Parker and Harvey Weinstein. On top of that, she is credited with working on a line of Obama election merchandise which raised $40 million.
Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, said that in his first term, Obama dished out 59 embassies to non-professional diplomats, 40 of them 'bundlers'. Louis Susman, a Chicago-based investment banker and bundler for Obama's 2008 campaign, currently has the London embassy.
What are her chances? Bloomberg reports that she has competition from Matthew Barzun, the finance chairman of Obama's campaign, who also wants the London job, and from 'bundler' Marc Lasry, founder of Avenue Capital Management, for Paris.
But these money folk aren't like Wintour. She is an international star, and her fame is based on her persona. She has more in common with Angelina Jolie, say, than with the average 'bundler'.
That doesn't mean she would be any good at it. As Johnson says with professional skill: "Wintour is clearly an intelligent, energetic, capable, attractive, elegant person, but having experience in the practice of diplomacy and international relations is really a great advantage."
The Daily Beast quotes former British ambassador to Washington Sir Christopher Meyer warning Wintour that the giddy social life requires more than an enigmatic frown. "People think, oh, here are these pinstriped fools tootling around with champagne in hand," he says. "Actually, it's really important. It's part of the networking that's required... It's damned hard work."
Well, she would have experts to help her with the details. And her husband, Texan venture capitalist Shelby Bryan, would probably be happy to join her: he was a big Bill Clinton fundraiser who was rewarded with a seat on his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
Pamela Harriman, born British, once married to Randolph Churchill and, after many adventures in and out of bed, appointed ambassador to France by Bill Clinton in the 90s is cited as the most obvious precedent.
But Harriman wanted the job – does Wintour? Given her inscrutability, there is no way of telling. Press officers at Conde Nast, publishers of Vogue, say she is not interested and that "she's very happy with her current job".
Harvey Weinstein, a friend, is unimpressed by the idea: "I don't think she should do anything but stay the editor of Vogue. An ambassadorship is a lame-duck job. After four years, you're out. Then what?"
And as Bloomberg itself notes: "The more momentous question is, who will run Vogue if she goes?"