Less than a week after mainstream media outlets banded together to protest the Obama Administration’s restriction of press photography at events, the White House issued a firm, unmistakable message to the press:
“You get access when we say you do; quit your whining.”
The White House answered the mainstream media’s respectful missive with a shot across the bow; now, USA Today has become the first paper to take a principled stand and has declared that they refuse to publish the “official” photos offered to media outlets from the Obama Administration.
Last week, the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) joined forces with other media outlets to protest the wanton disregard for journalistic standards this administration facilitates. The letter was signed by a variety of other news organizations and associations including, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, The Associated Press, Reuters, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Yahoo News. It was also signed by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the White House News Photographers Association.
The letter highlights several instances where the media have been barred from photographs, but where the White House released “official,” approved photographs to journalists and via social media. The letter complains,
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. To be clear, we are talking about Presidential activities of a fundamentally public nature. To be equally clear, we are not talking about open access to the residence or to areas restricted, for example, for national security purposes.
The apparent reason for closing certain events to photographers is that these events have been deemed “private.” That rationale, however, is undermined when the White House contemporaneously releases its own photograph of a so-called private event through social media. 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 Obama Administration’s response to the complaints from the media have been disrespectful, to say the least. In a closed meeting with outraged press photographers, White House Spokesman Jay Carney laughed in the face of veteran New York Times photographer Doug Mills, who accused the administration of operating similarly to the USSR in maintaining an inappropriate, government-approved media.
On Friday, the White House published as their “photo of the day” a picture of President Obama signing a bill into law while photographers take pictures. The message is unmistakable: quit whining, photographers get plenty of access (when we say it’s okay).
In response to the escalating disregard for transparency and a free press emanating from the Obama Administration, USA Today Deputy Director of Multimedia Andrew P. Scott issued the following memo to all staff:
We do not publish, either in print or online, handout photos originating from the White House Press Office, except in very extraordinary circumstances. In those very rare instances where a handout image from the White House image has been made under legitimate national security restrictions and is also of very high news value, the use needs to be approved in advance by consulting with Dave Callaway, David Colton, Owen Ullmann, Susan Weiss, Dave Teeuwen, Patty Michalski or me prior to publication.
The functions of the President at the White House are fundamentally public in nature, and should be documented for the public by independent news organizations, not solely by the White House Press Office.
The journalistic community feels so strongly about this that 38 news organizations, including Gannett, have sent a letter of formal protest to the White House.
The mainstream media has too-often buckled under the weight of the Obama Administration who threatens, coerces, bribes and obstructs in order to keep a stranglehold on the narratives the public hears about their government.
The Obama Administration has sought to shape public perception in a manner reminiscent of the USSR’s politburo and though this principled stance from the USA Today comes late in the game, it is, as they say, better late than never.