These days, no newscast is complete on Georgia's government-friendly national news channels without a little plug for President Mikheil Saakashvili that usually features Misha embracing an overjoyed old lady or "bebia."
One day, village women thank the president for fixing their water supplies; the next, he is personally pulling a more middle-aged woman through a flash flood.
(A photo depicting the latter scene was posted on Facebook by the Russian journal Snob.ru next to a still of Russian President Vladimir Putin thoughtfully observing flood damage from the safety of his plane. The two pictures have been madly debated, with some crediting Misha for getting his feet wet for the people, and others defending Putin's drier ways. )
Whether or not the old ladies are truly happy to see their president, the encounters are a syrupy standard for Georgia's national broadcasters, and one that no government would want to see go awry in an election year.
But when they do, leave it to the president to turn them around into another bebia-hugging success.
Case in point: At a July 24 event in western Georgia, Roza Tskabelia, a poverty-stricken local, tried to approach Saakashvili to tell him about her plight. Opposition-minded TV cameras filmed two plainclothesmen crudely dragging the struggling woman away. The video was aired on TV and went viral online, with Internet users demanding the men's punishment.
Yet just as the president’s opponents were going to town with the video, Misha, the presidential PR cameras rolling, visited Tskabelia, apologized to her, promised aid, and . . . ended with a hug. Tskabelia’s attackers were arrested on July 25, and a local police officer was fired for neglect of duty.
A sign of media checking abuses of power or of a politically savvy president who knows a PR cue when he sees one?
Whatever the answer, the incident emphasized the critical need in a Georgian election year for TV news outlets that do more than passively transmit images.
Opposition-minded stations have a Misha mania, too, blaming him for everything from natural disasters to unhappy marriages.
If Georgia's television channels ever troubled themselves actually to report, and reason about what they show, the country, old ladies included, could only benefit. Now that would be something to hug about.