WASHINGTON — Forget Barack Obama's staff making contact with a governor charged with corruption. What's got everyone talking is the president-elect's fine first form.
"FIT FOR OFFICE: Buff Bam is Hawaii hunk," the New York Post gushed on its cover Tuesday above a photo of the future president strolling without a shirt in Hawaii. The Drudge Report called him "President Beefcake," while TMZ said the president-elect is "still humble enough to do laundry — on his abs."
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The photos were taken by Chris Behnke and distributed by Bauer-Griffin, a photo agency more typically found on the corners of Hollywood.
Agency co-owner Frank Griffin said Behnke had gone to the beach to get general views of the estate where Obama is vacationing, but found easy access to a view of the first family hitting the beach. "We use the expression, 'He gave it up,'" Griffin said. "We didn't, by any stretch of the imagination, expect to get the images we got."
Griffin said he doesn't expect his agency to stake out Washington on a regular basis, but added that Obama is "now the world's biggest celebrity, just after Angelina and Brad. I guess they're neck and neck right now."
The celebrity description is apt, even if Obama faces a plummeting economy and two wars upon entering office. He's seen as often on Access Hollywood as on the nightly news, and he appears in Us Weekly magazine with the regularity of a Jennifer Aniston.
And should we really be surprised?
When John F. Kennedy was pictured shirtless, accounts in the news media fretted about the threshold we had crossed as a country, said David Greenberg, a professor at Rutgers University who is working on a history of political spin.
"There was John F. Kennedy by the beach, shirt off, this young, glamorous president," Greenberg said. "So in a way this is 48 years old now that we're having this."
Since then we've had Lyndon B. Johnson lifting his shirt to show reporters his surgery scar, and pictures of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in swim trunks.
"It was kind of an erosion of what had been boundaries of formality between the president and the public," Greenberg said. "We've had 'boxers and briefs' and a real acquaintanceship with a personal side, an uninhibited side, an unclothed side of the president."
Obama's physique has been well-exposed; photographers snapped him body surfing in Hawaii during the campaign. He was on the November cover of Men's Health and detailed his workouts for the magazine: 45 minutes, six days a week, alternating weights and cardio.
Peter Moore, editor of Men's Health, called Obama focused and disciplined about his workouts and what he eats. "I'd say he has a four-pack, rather than a six-pack, but most of us are working with a full keg," he said.
Combine the increased interest in a president's personal life with an increasing hunger for celebrity photos and a chiseled presidential body, and Obama becomes an obvious target for paparazzi. Apparently the Obama Girl isn't the only one with a crush.
"Comments have been 95 percent positive, everything from 'helllooo president' to a 65-year-old lady who said she had to wait this long to find a president who she finds attractive," Griffin said.
Earlier on his vacation, Obama was cranky as reporters snapped pictures through a chain-link fence and bushes, asking "OK, guys. Come on. ... How many shots do you need?"
But such personal shots also serve to humanize the president.
Griffin said, "I have a feeling that the president-elect kind of accepts this, that it goes with the territory. He's become a celebrity. I think the pictures humanize him and show that he's just like the rest of us."
Only with tighter abs.