President Obama’s refusal to allow journalists to photograph him at key events has now drawn the ire of the White House Correspondents’ Association, which joined other media outlets in sending a letter of protest to the president’s press secretary, Jay Carney.
The letter accuses the White House of restricting photojournalists’ access to the president to a degree far greater than any previous administration.
“As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist’s camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the Executive Branch of government,” wrote the WHCA.
The letter notes that the White House’s typical excuse — that certain events are “private” — does not hold water, since it often allows a government-employed photographer to take the pictures instead.
“That rationale…is undermined when the White House contemporaneously releases its own photograph of a so-called private event through social media,” wrote the WHCA. “The restrictions imposed by the White House on photographers covering these events, followed by the routine release by the White House of photographs made by government employees of these same events, is an arbitrary restraint and unwarranted interference on legitimate newsgathering activities. You are, in effect, replacing independent photojournalism with visual press releases.”
The letter follows weeks of increased scrutiny toward Obama’s autocratic photo policy. Associated Press editors recently revealed that the president rarely allows media outlets to take his picture when he is alone in the Oval Office, and never with his staff. While visits with foreign diplomats are typically open to the AP, the president uses a paid White House photographer at other key events and distributes the staged images to the press. (RELATED: AP editors: Obama relies on staged propaganda photos)
AP Director of Photography Santiago Lyon explained why the decreased access matters in a recent blog post. He gave the example of Obama’s July 1st visit to Nelson Mandela’s cell in Cape Town, South Africa, which was deemed private and barred to the press. However, the White House later released their own images of Obama standing in the cell, striking a contemplative pose and hugging his daughter.
Such photographs amount to little more than propaganda, when the press are not allowed to take their own, journalists say.
“Media organizations generally do not reproduce written press releases verbatim, so why should we settle for these official images?” wrote Lyon.
The restrictions are constitutionally suspect, the WHCA argued in its letter, since the First Amendment guarantees the press the right to gather information about the government.
They are also unprecedented.
“To exclude the press from these functions is a major break from how previous administrations have worked with the press,” wrote the WHCA.
The letter asks Carney to meet with representatives of the WHCA to discuss the issue.
Steve Thomma, president of the WHCA, told The Daily Caller that he hopes the letter will spark a change in the policy.
“We hope it will lead to more access to the president by photojournalists,” he wrote in an email to TheDC.
Thomma stressed that his organization was not asking to be included in every one of the president’s meetings.
“We don’t expect to be in every truly private moment,” he wrote. “We don’t, for example, expect to be on the situation room when the president is monitoring a raid on Osama bin Laden. But we hope to win back the kind of access to many events and moments that we used to have.”