They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what is that picture worth if it is the only one available because the president of the United States decided to control the scene by keeping news organizations out of the room?
The photographs in question are no better than government propaganda, according to The Associated Press, The New York Times, Dow Jones (publisher of The Wall Street Journal), all the major television networks, the White House Correspondents’ Association, the American Society of Newspaper Editors and The Associated Press Managing Editors association.
A letter from these media organizations was delivered to the White House last week, complaining about President Obama “routinely denying the right of independent journalists to photograph or videotape the president while he is performing official duties.” According to AP, Obama has blocked access more than previous presidents.
Some examples in the letter included Obama’s meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, with former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, with African-American clergy, with Pakistani human rights activist Malala Yousafzai, and with Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.
These weren’t situations involving national security. The White House tried to defend its practice by saying the meetings were private.
But apparently they weren’t private enough that the administration didn’t want to share photos it had vetted. It even posted some of these hand-picked photos on social media.
Presidents have long made use of their own personal photographers, but they haven’t tried to substitute them for actual news journalists.
“As surely as if they were placing a hand over the 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,” the media’s letter stated. “While certain of these events may appear ‘private’ in nature, the decision of the White House to release its own contemporaneous photograph(s) suggests that the White House believes these events are, in fact, newsworthy and not private.”
This is clearly an end run by the administration to avoid the scrutiny of the news media so it can control the content and delivery of the news. That never has been — and never will be — an acceptable situation.
In a story by Erin Madigan White for The Associated Press, the AP acknowledged: “We recognize that certain areas of the White House are off-limits to the media because they are secure or private areas, such as the president’s living quarters. ... To be clear — we are asking to be allowed consistent, independent access into the room when the president signs legislation, greets visitors of note, or otherwise discharges his public duties.”
That’s a much different picture, Mr. President.