December 7, 2013. Washington. President Obama’s loudest cheerleaders are suddenly upset with him and his press secretary. Dozens of the nation’s largest news corporations have either signed a letter of protest or announced they will no longer publish White House provided photos. The reason for their angst is the President’s policy of banning the press from photo ops and only allowing government approved pictures to be taken and published.
At last count, 69 of America’s most watched and read news outlets have officially signed on to a protest of President Obama’s refusal to allow their photographers access. Instead, only White House photographers are allowed to take pictures of the President’s activities and events. Until now, the press has generally been allowed to photograph past Presidents during the course of their work day. No more.
Carefully controlled propaganda
It’s no secret why the White House is banning America’s press from taking pictures of the man elected President twice by the American people. It’s a tried and true tactic of notorious regimes going back to the dawn of photography. If leaders can control the message and control the imagery, they can protect against any unforeseen embarrassments and tighten their control on the masses. There’s no mystery to the tactic. The only question is, why is President Obama acting like a paranoid dictator?
‘Last week, the Associated Press, ABC News, the Washington Post and Reuters all signed a letter to White House press secretary Jay Carney imploring the administration of President Barack Obama to provide photographers with increased access to the commander-in-chief,’ RT News reported, ‘According to those outlets, this White House has more than any other administration prevented credentialed photographers from shooting images of the president, and instead has relied on Mr. Obama’s official photography team on a routine basis to exclusively take pictures to be disseminated among the press.’
The Associated Press is being credited with leading the effort and organizing the joint letter from dozens of news outlets. Explaining their protest, AP spokespeople warn Americans that their photographers have only been allowed to photograph President Obama in the Oval Office twice since 2010. Among the types of events the press has been banned from are meetings with foreign dignitaries, legislation signings, the President’s daily routine, and other official duties.
List of news outlets grows
The protest started with Associated Press and their joint letter to the White House. One week ago, USA Today joined the effort and announced the publication, along with its 3 million print readers and 24 million monthly online readers, were boycotting White House distributed photos. Accuracy In Media published a copy of a memo sent to USA Today employees from the publication’s Deputy Director of Multimedia Andrew Scott. The memo to the paper’s staff explained the company’s decision to cease publishing White House provided photos except in extreme cases.
‘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 internal USA Today memo read, ‘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.’
One day later, McClatchy joined its competitors in the boycott of White House photography. The company owns 30 newspapers in 29 cities across the country. They include the Los Angeles Tribune, the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, the Charlotte Observer and the Miami Herald just to name a few. McClatchy’s Vice President for News, Anders Gylienhaal, released a public statement explaining the company’s position.
‘The editors of McClatchy newspapers have agreed not to publish photography issued by the White House as part of a follow-up to concerns raised by news organizations over the administration’s increasingly stringent photo policies,’ Gylienhaal’s announcement explained, ‘We think it’s important to take a stance that helps send the message that the limited access works against the public’s interests, diminishes the flow of information and often creates an inaccurate portrait of events in the White House. As one editor, Paul Osmundson of the Rock Hill Herald, put it: “The leader of the free world should be willing to be photographed by a free news media.”’
Parts of the open letter to President Obama and the White House Press Office have been published by the various news outlets taking part in the protest and boycott. One section explained, ‘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.’
White House responds
The issue of censoring America’s press apparently isn’t important enough for President Obama to comment on, or even White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. Instead, Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest was sent out to face an angry American media on two consecutive days.
First, Earnest attempted to dismiss the allegations of government censorship by joking that it was nothing more than the typical cat and mouse game played between the White House and the press. “You’re supposed to be agitating for more access,” he insisted, “If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be doing your job. So the fact that there is a little bit of a disagreement between the press corps and the White House Press Office about how much access the press corps should have to the President is built into the system. Like I said, if that tension didn’t exist, then either you or we are not doing our job.”
Later, after numerous outraged media personalities labeled Earnest’s words historically inaccurate at best, he issued a more carefully crafted official statement. The White House’s new position is that the administration is taking advantage of new media opportunities to give the American people more access to the President than they’ve ever had, and that doesn’t include the country’s free press.
“We remain fully committed to trying to give you and the American public access to the President and as much insight as possible into how the President is spending his day, to what priorities the President has identified and what he’s actually doing to make progress on those priorities,” Deputy Press Secretary Earnest remarked, “What we’ve done is we’ve taken advantage of new technology to give the American public even greater access to behind-the-scenes footage or photographs of the President doing his job.”
On the campaign trail, Barack Obama and the Democratic Party promised the most transparent administration in American history. Unfortunately, that promise turned out to be as true as the rest of Mr. Obama’s statements. His administration may go down in history, but it won’t be for being the most transparent Presidency in history. It’ll be for being the most dishonest administration in history.
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