A coalition of media organizations sent the White House an angry letter on Thursday, protesting the administration's apparent preference to block photojournalists from covering newsworthy events with the president — often on the grounds of "privacy" — only to later release "official" photos from Obama's own photographer after the fact. The White House Correspondents Association and a handful of other organizations argue that this practice is more or less the same as state censorship. It is, they write, "as if they were placing a hand over a journalist’s camera lens."
The letter, also signed by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Associated Press Managing Editors and the White House News Photographers Association, adds that "journalists are routinely being denied the right to photograph or videotape the President while he is performing his official duties." The letter provides a list of recent newsworthy events where photographers were restricted, including a meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, a presidential meeting with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, and the First Family's meeting with Malala Yousafzai. The coalition also includes individual outlets, such as ABC News, Fox News Channel, The New York Times.
The protest is just the latest in a series for White House correspondents critical of how the administration handles the media. In August, the press at a daily briefing got into a spat with Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who made the mistake of slamming the use of anonymous quotes in articles on White House policy. The journalists in the room noted that the administration routinely gives official statements to the press via unnamed "Senior Administration Officials."
Of course, those journalists involved in the daily coverage of the White House have something of a symbiotic relationship with the administration, making some of these criticisms fall flat. They all want access and it's never doled out in equal measure. But there's a bit of a difference between a reporter working with a series of semi-official anonymous quotes to build a case, and a photographer trying to work around a lack of access. The reporter can construct a piece from what's available, noting omissions as needed. A photographer cannot frame and depict a scene without being allowed in the room.
According to the National Journal, today's letter came complete with its own dramatic, confrontational scene between reporters and administration officials in charge of controlling the president's image. New York Times photographer Doug Mills told Press Secretary Jay Carney in October that the administration was "just like Tass," a reference to a state-owned Russian media outlet.