PARIS (Reuters) - In politics, as in good comedy, timing is everything, and news that President Nicolas Sarkozy is dating Italian model turned singer Carla Bruni has raised a wry smile or three after a week of bad political headlines.
Accused of betraying human rights to win lucrative contracts during last week's visit by Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, it is Sarkozy's love life that now has tongues wagging and France's once cerebral media has joined in the rush to cover the "event."
Bruni was pictured with Sarkozy at the Disneyland attraction outside Paris at the weekend, barely two months since he became the first sitting French president to get divorced.
The whirlwind romance, which apparently began after they met at the Elysee late last month, has prompted a fresh outbreak of the media feeding frenzy surrounding Sarkozy's personal life that is fast becoming a facet of his presidency.
Critics queued up to complain the media-savvy president was using Bruni to regain the political initiative after the Gaddafi visit, once more appearing sexy, virile and in charge.
"His affair comes at a time when Sarkozy was humiliated by Gaddafi, who led him around by the nose. His image was greatly tarnished," psychiatrist Serge Hefez told the Le Parisien daily.
"And now, by a wave of the magic wand, he appears resplendent. He has become active, brilliant, seductive again."
In any event, it is an unlikely match.
Bruni reportedly voted for Sarkozy's Socialist rival in May elections and joined protests against his tough immigration laws before becoming enamored of his charms during a visit to the Elysee Palace with other artists to discuss Internet piracy.
Strict privacy laws have made French media circumspect about reporting the private lives of public figures but Sarkozy's parading of his relationship with his (now former) wife Cecilia changed all that.
"Of course there is a public relations strategy behind this," L'Express editor Christophe Barbier said in a video editorial on the news weekly's website.
"So we have to look at how the Elysee's communications strategy is articulated around this event."
A Sarkozy front cover is guaranteed to boost a magazine's sales but the Internet is a different story. Facebook, the social network site, already has tongue-in-cheek groups entitled "For an immediate boycott of Carla Bruni" and "Those who have (also) gone out with Carla Bruni (but not posed for pictures)."
In a recent interview Sarkozy's mother Andree said she hoped her twice-divorced son would not remarry. Bruni, who has dated a string of rich, handsome or famous men, appears unlikely to cause her angst in that department.
"I'm monogamous from time to time, but I prefer polygamy and polyandry (a woman with more than one husband)," Bruni told the Figaro Madame magazine in February.
"Love lasts a long time, but burning desire, two or three weeks," said Bruni, who could yet accompany Sarkozy to Rome later this month where he has an audience with Pope Benedict.
Editing by Charles Dick