The White House press corps went off on Press Secretary Jay Carney today on the limited access photographers have had to the president. Carney promised to work on the issue but made a point of saying that President Obama’s predecessors also placed limits on photographer access.
Carney argued that the real difference now is in the distribution of photos made possible by the Internet. During past administrations, official White House photographers with special access passed their photos to the news media, which decided if and how to present them to the public. Now , White House shooters distribute their images of “private” presidential moments directly to the public, via Flickr, Twitter and the like.
The White House contends that it is providing a rich flow of images to satisfy the public’s needs. But in an editorial headlined “Obama’s Orwellian Image Control,” The New York Times pointed out:
“The official photographs the White House hands out are but visual news releases. Taken by government employees (mostly former photojournalists), they are well composed, compelling and even intimate glimpses of presidential life. They also show the president in the best possible light, as you’d expect from an administration highly conscious of the power of the image at a time of instant sharing of photos and videos.
“By no stretch of the imagination are these images journalism. Rather, they propagate an idealized portrayal of events on Pennsylvania Avenue.”
This is a serious issue that’s bigger than the White House. Government agencies across the nation are increasingly limiting access by the media and instead distributing their own slick images straight to the public. In Knoxville, for instance, the News Sentinel finds itself more and more in competition with the official photographers and videographers paid by the University of Tennessee Athletic Department. The ironic twist is that, the more these governments use official access to present the positive images and stories, the more the media are forced to focus on what’s left: the negative. It’s not a healthy situation.