White House

White House Blames Internet for Lack of Media Access, and the Press Calls Shenanigans

Commotion erupts as the media debates access issues with press secretary Jay Carney.

This is a photo the press was not allowed to take.
National Journal
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Brian Resnick
Dec. 12, 2013, 10:16 a.m.

The Obama White House has be­come no­tori­ous for its re­stric­tions on me­dia ac­cess. Few press pho­to­graph­ers get to pho­to­graph even the most banal mo­ments of the pres­id­ency. Per­haps one reas­on why the photo of Obama tak­ing a “selfie” at Nel­son Man­dela’s me­mori­al ser­vice got so much at­ten­tion is be­cause it’s rare to see a photo of him away from the West Wing not com­posed and se­lec­ted by his White House pho­to­graph­ers.

At Thursday’s daily press brief­ing with White House press sec­ret­ary Jay Car­ney, some mem­bers of the press corp got verbally up in arms over the is­sue.

“A lot of this had to do with the fun­da­ment­al trans­form­a­tions in the me­dia, of which we and oth­er in­sti­tu­tions are par­ti­cipants,” Car­ney told re­port­ers. “But we did not cre­ate the In­ter­net.”

Here’s one way to in­ter­pret that: In the In­ter­net age, the White House can (and has full right to) sidestep the tra­di­tion­al me­dia in provid­ing im­ages dir­ectly to the people, us­ing so­cial me­dia in­stead. Which is true, but not the point the journ­al­ists were ar­guing.

April Ry­an, a cor­res­pond­ent for Amer­ic­an Urb­an Ra­dio Net­works, summed up the press sen­ti­ment well. “The In­ter­net had noth­ing to do with Air Force One,” she said, re­fer­ring to the pres­id­ent’s re­cent trip to Nel­son Man­dela’s me­mori­al. “When you had a large group of re­port­ers in the pool, pho­to­graph­ers there as well, who could have come up with Pete Souza, to the front of Air Force One, and taken a couple of pic­tures…. But we were not al­lowed.”

“You don’t have to sub­scribe to that wire ser­vice to see that pho­to­graph,” Car­ney said of the pho­to­graphs taken of the pres­id­ent. 

Which goes to show that the me­dia and Car­ney are ar­guing two dif­fer­ent points. Car­ney says the in­de­pend­ent pub­lic­a­tions aren’t needed, be­cause the White House can pub­lish the pho­tos. The me­dia say the White House isn’t op­er­at­ing with an ob­ject­ive fil­ter. As Ry­an told Car­ney, the sound of press cam­er­as re­mind those in power they are be­ing watched. And the act of ob­serving changes that which is be­ing ob­served.

These are the pho­tos the White House took. And they told a cer­tain story of pres­id­en­tial (Bush, Obama) bond­ing. Yes, that’s a re­l­at­ively trivi­al story. But what would have it looked like as pho­to­graphed through the lens of the in­de­pend­ent me­dia?

We’ll nev­er know.

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