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Monday, August 19, 2013

A British Perspective on Celebrity and the Presidency

Billy Kenber writes at The Washington Post:
As a Times of London journalist who is on loan to The Post for a few months, I find the extent of the cult of celebrity surrounding the Obamas striking.

Throughout last week, the president looked like a man who, on a rare excursion from the intensity of living in one of the most famous buildings in the world, wanted nothing more than to be left alone for a few days. And yet the crowds and the media were determined to ensure he wasn’t.

This summer scrutiny stands in contrast to the treatment of politicians in Britain. Although the sex lives and private indiscretions of MPs are considered fair game — for both the tabloid and broadsheet press — vacations have remained more sacred territory.

The state’s administrative and ceremonial roles are combined into one office in the United States. By contrast, in Britain, the royal family — who play no part in the daily business of government — do the heavy lifting when it comes to feeding the nation’s appetite for celebrity stories.
But even when he was away from the crowds, he was not left alone — thanks to what is, to these eyes, a peculiar U.S. tradition: the protective travel pool.

The American media clearly feel that they have a duty to be on hand at all times, in case developing events — such as violence in Egypt, or other emergencies — intrude. The practical result of this pious goal, though, is that the assembled journalists are left covering events that are really no more than tabloid fodder.
Michael Nelson writes of "the body watch."
The body, of course, is the president's, and the purpose of the watch is to find out everything he does in his waking hours, both officially and privately. To do that means staying near. As one White House reporter put it, "the worst thing in the world that could happen to you is for the president of the United States to choke on a piece of meat, and for you not to be there." An executive producer for a television network says, even more starkly, "We cover the president expecting he will die."