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Embrace the press, President-elect Barack Obama

Embrace the press, President-elect Barack Obama

Posted: Tuesday, December 30, 2008 7:23 pm

By DOUGLAS COHN and ELEANOR CLIFT WASHINGTON — Part of President-elect Barack Obama’s appeal is his star power, so he shouldn’t be surprised that he is stalked by paparazzi when he is on vacation. The photo of the president-elect bare-chested and apparently unaware a camera had its eye on him marred the start of his 10-day stay in Hawaii, a time when he hoped to set some boundaries on the media. He had better get used to the media’s invasive behavior or he will be very frustrated because keeping the press away from a big story won’t work. It’s the media’s job to satisfy the enormous interest in everything there is to know about Obama from his plan to revive the economy to his six-pack abs. The president-elect is a photographer’s dream. He’s young, physically fit and athletic, and every time he goes swimming, he’s a potential centerfold. Most politicians are not dogged by the press unless they’re caught up in scandal. But the extraordinary way Obama connected with young people and plugged into popular culture immediately distinguished him from his rivals and contributed to his victory. His celebrity image, whether he sought it or it was thrust upon him, is now a reality of his presidency. Even President Bush seems captivated by the historic nature of his successor’s election. At Obama’s suggestion, the four living presidents will gather in early January for a reunion at the White House with Bush hosting. Historians say the level of cooperation between Bush and Obama is unprecedented. Obama has profited from his star-studded image. It’s hard to imagine anyone with his level of experience reaching the White House without the charisma that he projects with such ease. For someone with an amazingly even temperament, the few flashes of annoyance that we see are tied to his sense that the media are invading his privacy, or his sense of propriety, sometimes with their questions, but more often with their cameras and now in Hawaii with their long lenses. “Guys, how many shots do you need?” Obama asked as photographers clicked away while he was on the driving range. Reporters cooled their heels in the clubhouse during the game itself, giving Obama a measure of peace, though judging by his mood after the ninth hole, the game of golf was exacting enough. “I’m not that good,” he replied when a reporter asked how it was going as Obama and his golfing partners stopped for lunch, their food preferences reported, if not their scores. Obama might pick up some pointers from how former presidents handled media intrusions. The jury is still out as to whether the Clintons were truly angry over a photo shot from afar of the two of them dancing alone on the beach. Skeptics think the intimate moment was calculated to tamp down questions about their marriage. President Kennedy was far from the picture of health he conveyed through photographs showing him sailing and playing touch football. He showcased his young family, and if he felt any irritation at the press, he conveyed it with a sense of humor. President Reagan retreated to his California ranch every summer for six weeks, keeping the press at bay and making as little news as possible. Network crews would station themselves on a nearby mountain with powerful lenses trained on the president’s property. Nancy Reagan installed curtains to block the view while her husband decided to have some fun at the media’s expense. Horseback riding one day, he clutched his chest as though he were having a heart attack, giving the crews paroxysms. It’s hard to find fault with anything Obama has done, given how far he’s come in such a short while, but if he’s making a New Year’s resolution, a good one would be to have a sense of humor about the press. They come with the turf, and the sooner he can smile about that, the happier he will be. ——— Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate Inc. Published in The Messenger 12.30.08


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