White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest dismissed White House press corps concerns about the access of news photographers to President Obama, seeking to justify the use of official White House photographers to capture certain events instead.
With the press barred, Obama’s photographers release their idealized propaganda shots directly to the public, placing their work on the White House website and disseminating it through social media channels like Flickr and Instagram.
Earnest’s comments came in response to questions at Wednesday’s briefing about formal letter sent Wednesday by the White House Correspondents’ Association to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney protesting the limits and demanding a meeting with Carney.
The letter states:
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.
The restrictions imposed by the White House on photographers covering these events, followed by the routine release by the White House of photographs made by government employees of these same events, is an arbitrary restraint and unwarranted interference on legitimate newsgathering activities. You are, in effect, replacing independent photojournalism with visual press releases.
Moreover, these restrictions raise constitutional concerns. As the Supreme Court has stated, the First Amendment protects “the public and the press from abridgment of their rights of access to information about the operation of their government,” Richmond Newspapers Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 584 (1980).
Among the events from which news photographers were barred were sessions Obama had with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, and Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Earnest tried to deflect the matter with a little false flattery, describing the protest as nothing more than the usual tension between the press and the White House.
But it is the responsibility of those of you who are sitting in those seats to push for more. You’re supposed to be agitating for more access. 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.
But Major Garrett of CBS wasn’t having any of it:
That tension has long existed, you’re absolutely right. I know it. I’ve experienced it under different administrations. What is different and what this letter goes to is events that we used to have access to before that we’re denied, and then the White House produces its own photography of that event in a way that seems completely designed to exclude independent eyeballs and only have the taxpayer-funded eyeballs of the person who works for the President of the United States.
Earnest sought to portray the White House propaganda effort as nothing less than a public service:
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.
So I understand why that is the source of some consternation to people in this room, but to the American public that’s a clear win.
And then he raised a red herring:
I think the best example of this would be in the Situation Room of the White House where, when the President is talking about classified issues, it’s just not feasible for us to have those discussions at —
Ed Henry of Fox News immediately recognized the tactic, interrupting, “That’s an outlier, Josh.”
The press, of course, is not seeking access to Obama’s secret deliberations. It merely wants the same access it has had under other administrations that didn’t purport to stand for “transparency.”