In a move that members of the press are calling an updated “soviet-style news service”, the White House has restricted access to the press public events, declaring the President’s daily activities ‘off limits’, all the while monopolizing photo-ops and event details for themselves. The outrage comes after members of the press were denied access to various “private” moments, which were later documented and distributed publicly by White House photographer Pete Souza as allowed by the administration, often “minutes after they are taken.”
The White House has been defensive about its policy, claiming it is not “logically feasible” to allow photographers into every event. Josh Earnest, deputy spokesman said that the advent of new technology and America’s increasing use of social media has decreased the need of traditional photo journalism and has actually granted the American public “greater access” to “behind-the-scenes footage” of the President at work.
Mr. Earnest says that while the press may be upset over this, it is a “clear win” for the American public.
The White House Correspondents’ Association, along with 37 news organizations have sent a letter to press Secretary Jay Carney, detailing their outrage with the White House’s “No Photography Allowed” policy.
“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.” says a statement from the three-page letter.
Critics of the Obama administration say that this restrictive policy not only flies in the face of Obama’s campaign promise of government transparency, but directly violates the 1st amendment.
Such traditionally open to the press White House events such as outdoor lunches with cabinet members and high profile meetings with diplomats have been off limits to independent media. Recent examples include a meeting with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, and an outdoor lunch with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. White House photographers have secured all rights to photos and details of the event.
The administration maintains that these events were ‘private meetings’, despite the fact that in all the cases above, the White House released their own photographs and event itineraries, a job traditionally reserved for major news organizations
Observers claim the problem isn’t only the fact that the administration is holding meetings closed to the press- it’s compounded by the issue that these ‘closed meetings’ are publicly displayed by their own media service, with no independent measure of the events and details surrounding the meetings.
Even everyday activities have been deemed closed to the press, such as the time when President Obama took a swim off the shore of Panama City, Florida to illustrate that the BP oil spill had been resolved.
Steve Thomma, president of the White Correspondents’ Association, says that while excluding photographers is a problem, it is made all the more worse that the White House has “set up their own media operation.” in spite of major news outlets and independent media organizations.
“I said, ‘Jay, this is just like Tass,'” said Doug Mills, a New York Times photographer who has followed Presidents and the White House since the 1980’s. “It’s like government-controlled use of the public image of the president.”
Stalin’s government run news agency Tass, published manipulated, or rather “unchallenged” versions of state meetings and government operations. Critics claim the Obama administration’s monopolization of photo ops and event details borders on the style of propaganda made famous by Communist regimes around the world.