Amal Alamuddin isn’t a household name. For years, she built up her career in the United Kingdom as an international lawyer, serving on several high profile cases related to human rights and crimes against humanity. But on Monday, international headlines declaring a new role for her focused on a part of her character that isn’t on her resume: her marital status.
The chair of the Human Rights Council on Monday announced that Alamuddin would be joining two other international law experts to take part in an investigation of potential war crimes committed in the Palestinian territory. Last month, the United Nations Human Rights Council decided to form a commission of inquiry to “investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law” in the context of the month-long conflict between Israel and Hamas on the Gaza Strip. In the statement announcing her involvement, the U.N. said the panel would”establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated” and work to identify any who broke international law during the struggle.
One thing missing from several outlet’s headlines about the announcement: Alamuddin. “George Clooney’s Fiancee to Investigate Possible War Crimes in Gaza,” ABC News’ headline declared about the announcement. Yahoo News likewise announced “Clooney’s fiancee to serve on Gaza rights probe” in the headline of the Associated Press wire story they ran.
A high-profile lawyer being offered a position on a controversial investigation would theoretically be news in and of itself. But in addition to being a world-class barrister based in London, Alamuddin also happens to be engaged to actor and activist George Clooney. That role, rather than her legal expertise, became the focal point of most coverage. To illustrate just how large a role her relationship with Clooney played on the framing of the story, ThinkProgress drew upon sample of stories found on LexisNexis. Eliminating duplicates, ThinkProgress just under fifty articles written about the U.N. naming the panel using the terms “clooney” and “gaza.” Of these stories, 28 mention George Clooney’s name in the headline — only 8 mention her by name in the headline without him. All the worse, a full 22 of the headlines found in LexisNexis — forty-six percent of the total — only mention Clooney in the headline.
Alamuddin was a prime choice for such a position, having worked on a number of high-profile cases, including ones involving former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymonshenko and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. She’s also worked closely with the United Nations previously, including serving as an adviser to former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan during his time as the Special Envoy for Syria and as counsel to the U.N.’s inquiry on the use of drones in counter-terrorism operations.
Despite her experience, however, Alamuddin turned down the the position on the commission. “I am horrified by the situation in the occupied Gaza Strip, particularly the civilian casualties that have been caused, and strongly believe that there should be an independent investigation and accountability for crimes that have been committed,” she said through a statement released in her name. “I was contacted by the UN about this for the first time this morning. I am honoured to have received the offer, but given existing commitments — including eight ongoing cases — unfortunately could not accept this role. I wish my colleagues who will serve on the commission courage and strength in their endeavours.”
That she had turned down the post didn’t matter in the framing of the story, however. “Gaza probe ‘operational’ without Clooney’s fiancee,” an Associated Press headline read. In the end, the media for the most part appears to have determined that her new role as the spouse of a star has totally replaced her long list of achievements and years of experience in international law.