Obama 'au naturel' magazine cover stirs a storm

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Apr 23 2009 08:29 AM | Updated as of Apr 23 2009 04:29 PM

WASHINGTON - A shot of a bare-chested US President Barack Obama on the cover of a popular Washington magazine had some fans swooning Wednesday while others cried foul saying the image had been doctored.

Political reporter Garrett Graff from The Washingtonian told AFP the magazine had been swamped by readers who had seen the May edition showing Obama wearing nothing but swimming trunks and sunglasses, next to the line: "Our new neighbor is hot."

"Between the emails, telephone calls and blog comments about the cover photo, we're certainly well into the hundreds and probably fast approaching the 1,000 mark," Graff said.

"And the comments are very split: a lot of people think it's a great celebratory picture of the president and others disagree with it.

"We were trying to capture in the cover image what makes it so cool to be here right now," said Graff. "And the real reason is that our new neighbor is hot."

"We mean it on the cover in a tongue-in-cheek way and in the article inside we mean it in the sense that Obama has made Washington cool, has made government cool.

"You have lots of people trying to get into government, giving up careers to join the administration, and he's got his family out enjoying Washington in a way that we haven't had a lot of our presidents do.

"Hey, last night I was at the Shakespeare Theatre and Mrs Obama was in the audience," he told AFP.

The picture was taken after Obama won the November elections snapped by a paparazzo during an Obama family holiday in Hawaii before he was sworn into office in January.

But University of Maryland journalism professor Susan Moeller, writing on the Huffington Post website, said the original photo had been altered.

"In the original photo the president is wearing a black suit and walking from what appears to be sliding glass doors leading to a living room," she wrote.

On The Washingtonian's May edition, which appears Thursday, the background is stark black and Obama's swimming trunks are red.

"What also appears to be altered from the original image is the contrast and the color balance of the president's skin," wrote Moeller.

"On The Washingtonian's cover, the sun striking Obama's chest makes him appear more golden, almost glistening."

She went on to liken the allegedly altered image of Obama to the mugshot of O.J. Simpson on the cover of Time magazine in 1994, which was doctored to make his face "darker, more shadowed," or a pastiche of consumer diva Martha Stewart's head on a model's body, which was the cover of Newsweek in 2005.

But Graff told AFP Moeller was up in arms over nothing. "We didn't change the concept of the picture," he said.

"We changed the color of the bathing suit because we put the picture against a black background, and in the original, the bathing suit was dark blue to black.

"We didn't touch the color of his skin tone. What some people are noticing is that the photo looks different printed on glossy cover paper as opposed to being printed in a newspaper," Graff said.

"This is much ado about nothing. It's not like the Iranian government's shot last year where they added a whole fourth missile."

The Washingtonian has launched a comment blog space on its website and reaction from readers to the cover shot was mixed.

"'Hot?' Juvenile," wrote Kristin. "Washingtonian editors should be ashamed of themselves."

"Wonderful!" wrote Thea Repo. "We here in Scandinavia are used to seeing men naked, so that is not a point. The point is that he is not old-fashioned and hypocritical. Great!"