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Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Paparazzi President

Well, talking about "ordinary" people on the covers of popular magazines, it seems that an extraordinary politician has made that leap already.

According to Daniel Libit and Jeffrey Ressner in the internet magazine politico, ABC's Jake Tapper predicted this week that Barack Obama will be "the Britney Spears of 2009."

It is a sea-change in the area of political news reporting, and newspaper publishers are taking note.

It all began when a resourceful paparazzi sneaked some beefcake shots of Barack on the beach, and sold them to the mainstream media. "FIT FOR OFFICE: Buff Bam is Hawaii Hunk," headlined the New York Post. Even the analytical political internet sites succumbed, with Huffington Post running one of the swimsuit photos prominently on its homepage. Politico itself ran stories about the pix.

As media critic Jeff Jarvis observes, that the Washington press agreed not to photograph the president-elect on holiday and the paparazzi cashed in changes the rules of the game. "If one person breaks away from the pack, there is no pack." Barack Obama is suddenly going to have a lot less privacy than he might have expected, and the coverage of the presidency is going to change in unprecedented ways.

Is going to trivialize the presidency? You bet. Is it going to be a good thing? Democratic strategist Chris Lehane believes so. "The number of eyeballs that read People magazine are enormous compared to political publications," he says. "If you're able to communicate through those outlets, you're able to reach more people more quickly, without your message being 'translated' by the historic gatekeepers."

If it means that the ordinary reader gets important economic or foreign policy tidings along with revelations about Michelle Obama's dining table settings and the school the girls attend, thenit will be not a bad outcome at all.

But will it also trivialize mainstream reporting of the presidency? And leave the real political commentators battling for the newspaper space that was theirs by right, in the past? That, I predict, will be the problem.

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