I’m not sure which is the more surprising aspect of this story… that it took so long to happen or that it happened at all. In any event, with very little fanfare or coverage on cable news, a significant portion of the national news outlets got together on Thursday and sent a letter to Press Secretary Jay Carney. In it, they assembled a list of complaints about the squelching of access to behind the scenes events at the White House for photographers in the press corps.
Friday’s White House “Photo of the Day” seems fairly innocuous at first glance. President Obama, in the Oval Office, is surrounded by eight photojournalists as he signs a bill into law.
But that particular photo comes courtesy of the White House just one day after 38 news organizations and journalistic institutions, en masse, penned a letter of protest to Press Secretary Jay Carney, asking that the Obama administration stop simply sending out their own photos and allow more access to photographers and videographers.
Some journalists interpreted Friday’s photo as the White House attempting to sweep the issue under the rug, while others figured it a subliminal “screw you.”
In case you missed it on the front page, here is the “screw you” photo in question.
You can read the full text of the letter here, but here’s the seemingly polite way it kicks off.
Dear Mr. Carney:
We write to protest the limits on access currently barring photographers who cover the White House. We hope this letter will serve as the first step in removing these restrictions and, therefore, we also request a meeting with you to discuss this critical issue further.
Journalists are routinely being denied the right to photograph or videotape the President while he is performing his official duties. 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.
Here’s the full list of media outlets who signed on to the letter:
American Society of News Editors
American Society of Media Photographers
Associated Press Media Editors
Associated Press Photo Managers
Association of Alternative Newsmedia
Association of Opinion Journalists
Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Fox News Channel
Gannett Co., Inc.
Lee Enterprises, Incorporated
The McClatchy Company
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
National Press Club
National Press Photographers Association
New England First Amendment Coalition
News Media Coalition
Newspaper Association of America
The New York Times Company
Online News Association
Professional Photographers of America
Radio Television Digital News Association
Regional Reporters Association
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Society of Professional Journalists
The Washington Post
White House Correspondents’ Association
White House News Photographers Association
Notice anyone missing there? Did MSNBC skip it, or are they covered under the umbrella of “NBC News”?
They do raise an interesting point as the letter continues. It’s not just a matter of the White House holding certain events which they define as “private” and barring access to photographers. (There are certainly some events, particularly those dealing with national security, where they might not want photos splashed all over the press.) What seems to really have put a bee in the media’s collective bonnet is when Obama shuts their photographers out of these “private” events, but then immediately takes their own pictures and sends them out on Twitter and posts them on the official White House web site. The photo above is one example of that, being an official White House picture of their own. It’s not hard to see why that one comes off as a bit of a middle finger salute to those doing the complaining.
There is little doubt at this point that the Obama administration has been one of the most closely and carefully managed media operations in the nation’s history. They don’t just try to control the carefully crafted message and talking points – with harsh penalties for those who express any independent thoughts or opinions – but they also work to lock down every image which the public gets to see. It’s all part of the packaging and selling of the world changing, transformative, historic presidency unfolding before our eyes. Or at least what we’re allowed to see.