President Obama appears to have nothing against having his picture taken. He’s photographed pretty much constantly by Official White House Photographer, Pete Souza. Pete does a great job documenting President Obama, no doubt about that. There has been an unprecedented flow of photos online through the White House Flickr photostream and other social media.
But there has been an unprecedented lack of access given to photojournalists during the current administration. While it looks to most people like the White House is being transparent they are releasing their own photos and only those photos they want released.
As much as it might make Pete Souza bristle his work is not the work of a free and independent press. The photos released are carefully selected by an image machine that has been brilliant in its use of social media.
The strong word for carefully polishing an image through the selective release of photos and other information is propaganda.
There has been pressure for better access from all corners of the journalism world to allow news photographers access to the White House and the President. On November 21 a couple dozen journalism organizations delivered a letter to the White House press office asking for improved access. Following that letter and meeting were lots of editorials and announcements that newspaper after newspaper were not going to publish the handout pictures.
Then, on December 12, at a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was questioned at length about the lack of access and the lack of action on the part of the White House since the letter was delivered.
Carney talked and talked. He gave us the gratuitous bit about how much he admired those brave photographers he worked with as a reporter. Told everyone how much he respected their work. Yeah yeah yeah.
Then he proved he doesn’t understand what the real journalists want.
He talked about how there will never ever be as much access as the press wants. Probably true but not really the issue.
Then there was the odd part about how because of the internet and how that has changed business models all the news outlets want more pictures. Huh? We only want to be able to have uncensored pictures of the POTUS because of pressure on business models? Nonsense. The fact that many newspapers are not making the money they did in the past has nothing to do with asking for more transparency in the highest office in the land.
Then he said they were working on it.
That’s it? After three weeks? After three weeks all we get is “We’re working on it”???
How long does it take to change a line on a calendar from “closed press” to “pool spray”?
When pressed on what “working on it” means Carney repeated the phrase a bunch. When Carney was a reporter would he have been satisfied with that tap dance of an answer?
I’m not sure Mr. Carney understands the difference between what Pete Souza does, which is wonderful work documenting a presidency, and real photojournalism. Flickr and an official White House Photo of the Day are not fulfilling the watchdog role the public deserves.
Prove you’re working on it. Put more “open press” events on that schedule.