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
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.

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“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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