Obama’s Image Machine: Monopolistic Propaganda Funded by You

News organizations protest White House restrictions on independent photo coverage.

Nov. 21, 2013, 5:39 a.m.

New York Times pho­to­graph­er Doug Mills strode in­to Jay Car­ney’s of­fice Oct. 29 with a pile of pic­tures taken ex­clus­ively by Pres­id­ent Obama’s of­fi­cial pho­to­graph­er at events the White House press corps was for­bid­den to cov­er. “This one,” Mills said, slid­ing one pic­ture after an­oth­er off his stack and onto the press sec­ret­ary’s desk. “This one, too—and this one and this one and “¦”

The red-faced pho­to­graph­er, joined by col­leagues on the White House Cor­res­pond­ents’ As­so­ci­ation board, fin­ished his 10-minute present­a­tion with a flour­ish that made Car­ney, a former Mo­scow cor­res­pond­ent for Time, wince.

“You guys,” Mills said, “are just like Tass.”

Com­par­ing the White House to the Rus­si­an news agency is a hy­per­bole, of course, but less so with each new ad­min­is­tra­tion. Obama’s im­age-makers are tak­ing ad­vant­age of new tech­no­lo­gies that demo­crat­ized the me­dia, sub­vert­ing in­de­pend­ent news or­gan­iz­a­tions that hold the pres­id­ent ac­count­able. A gen­er­a­tion ago, a few main­stream me­dia or­gan­iz­a­tions held a mono­poly on pub­lic in­form­a­tion about the White House. Today, the White House it­self is be­hav­ing mono­pol­ist­ic­ally.

The fast-mov­ing trend is ham­per­ing re­port­ers and video­graph­ers who cov­er the White House, but Mills’s pro­fes­sion has prob­ably been hard­est hit. “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,” reads a let­ter de­livered today to Car­ney by the WHCA and sev­er­al mem­ber news or­gan­iz­a­tions in­clud­ing The As­so­ci­ated Press and The New York Times.

The let­ter in­cludes ex­amples of im­port­ant news events that were not covered by me­dia pho­to­graph­ers, and yet pic­tures were taken by the White House im­age team and widely dis­trib­uted via so­cial me­dia. This hap­pens al­most daily.

Un­like me­dia pho­to­graph­ers, of­fi­cial White House pho­to­graph­ers are paid by tax­pay­ers and re­port to the pres­id­ent. Their job is to make Obama look good. They are pro­pa­gand­ists—in the purest sense of the word.

The let­ter re­minds Car­ney that Obama prom­ised to run the most trans­par­ent ad­min­is­tra­tion in his­tory. It ar­gues that the re­stric­tions “raise con­sti­tu­tion­al con­cerns” and amount to “ar­bit­rary re­straint and un­war­ran­ted in­ter­fer­ence on le­git­im­ate news­gath­er­ing activ­it­ies.”

Journ­al­ists un­der­stand that the pres­id­ent’s fam­ily and na­tion­al se­cur­ity events must be off-lim­its at times. Journ­al­ists also don’t ob­ject to the White House us­ing so­cial me­dia; those are plat­forms as le­git­im­ate as tele­vi­sions and print. The prob­lem is that the Obama White House is sim­ul­tan­eously re­strict­ing ac­cess of in­de­pend­ent me­dia while flood­ing the pub­lic with state-run me­dia.

Again, this is pro­pa­ganda—ut­terly lack­ing a skep­tic­al eye. The irony is that Obama is us­ing tech­no­logy that demo­crat­ized and flattened the me­dia to cent­ral­ize and strengthen the powers an in­sti­tu­tion, The Pres­id­ency.

That was the sen­ti­ment be­hind Mills’s crack about Tass, ac­cord­ing to people who at­ten­ded the Oct. 29 meet­ing. Car­ney took of­fense.

“Oh, so now we’re like Stal­in?” the White House press sec­ret­ary replied, laugh­ing at the vet­er­an New York Times pho­to­graph­er.

Olivi­er Knox, a Ya­hoo re­port­er and long-time White House cor­res­pond­ent who at­ten­ded the meet­ing with Mills, shot an angry look at Car­ney and said, “It’s not funny, Jay.”

Here are just a few ex­amples of how the White House uses your taxes to ma­nip­u­late Obama’s im­age.


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