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Possible Wintour appointment gets London talking

The Associated Press, Wednesday, December 5, 2012, 10:29am (PST)

LONDON (AP) — Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Quincy Adams ... and now Anna Wintour?

A report suggesting that the influential editor-in-chief of Vogue is one of the candidates being considered for the top U.S. diplomatic post in France or Britain has sparked spirited debate about her qualifications, exciting Britain's glamour-hungry tabloids but raising hackles at the conservative Daily Telegraph.

"Anna Wintour may be an enticing pick for a celebrity-fixated White House," wrote Nile Gardner in the Telegraph. "But she is eminently unsuitable for America's most prestigious diplomatic posting."

The possibility that the British-born Wintour would move into London's grand ambassadorial residence was raised several years ago by The Guardian newspaper — where her brother Patrick is a prominent journalist — and again this week by Bloomberg News, which based its report on "two people familiar with the matter."

Officials at the U.S. Embassy in London said they would not speculate on President Obama's eventual choice for a successor to Ambassador Louis Susman, who has announced plans to step down. White House officials have also refused to comment.

Officials caution that a decision is months away and would only follow the appointment of a new secretary of state to replace outgoing Hillary Clinton and would also include a thorough vetting process.

Guardian fashion writer Jess Cartner-Morley said the editor — the model for the imperious character played by Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada" movie — would be well-suited for an ambassadorial position.

"Wintour is generally acknowledged as whipsmart and extremely hard-working," she wrote. "She is enormously charismatic, a born networker and a formidable fundraiser."

Cartner-Morley also challenged the dismissive view that Wintour's many years in the fashion industry are not enough, citing recent ambassadorial choices of a retired investment banker and a retired car dealership owner.

"Is a career as one of the biggest global players in an industry estimated to be worth $900 billion to the world economy really so inferior and shallow by comparison?" the writer asked.

Vogue spokeswoman Megan Salt in New York said Wednesday said that Wintour is very happy with her present job.

Wintour raised $40 million for Obama's re-election through a number of campaigns and star-studded dinners she co-hosted with some of the most powerful people in the entertainment and fashion worlds. In August, she teamed up with movie mogul Harvey Weinstein for a fundraising dinner, after a successful party at Sarah Jessica Parker's Manhattan home in July.

The ambassadorial posts in France and Britain — formally known as the Court of St. James's — are among the most coveted in the diplomatic ranks. They also typically go to wealthy individuals willing to use personal funds to buttress the government-provided entertainment budget.

Wintour, 63, is best-known for her trademark glossy bob hairstyle, oversized sunglasses and haughty demeanor. Born in London, she started in fashion journalism at Harper's Bazaar and New York magazine, and after working at the helm of other glossies became editor-in-chief at U.S. Vogue in 1988.

Carne Ross, a former British diplomat who now runs a New York-based diplomatic advisory group, said Wintour's skills — "honed in the vicious world of the fashion industry" — would qualify her for a diplomatic posting.

Ross said a large part of an ambassador's job involves taking part in social gatherings, something Wintour would be comfortable with. Often most of the real political work is done by direct communications between the White House and the prime minister's office at Downing Street, he said.

"That diminishes the political significance of the ambassador's role," he said.

Mary Jo Jacobi, a presidential adviser during two Republican administrations, said Wintour would be an unusual choice but possibly an effective one.

"Vogue is a very successful, very large publication, and she has experience with big budgets and with challenging, difficult people," Jacobi said. "She knows how to marshal resources. And her job has involved a great deal of diplomacy."

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