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.