Press Secretary Jay Carney got an earful today from a frustrated White House press corps, as reporters revolted against what they described as limited access to President Obama.
“We are working and have been working on expanding access where we can,” Carney explained.
The uproar comes just days after the White House declined to let journalists photograph the president and first lady with former President George W. Bush, former first lady Laura Bush and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the long flight to South Africa. The White House later released several photos of the rare assembly aboard Air Force One taken by the official White House photographer.
“For a lot of those hours, the president, former president, first lady and the former first lady were asleep, so we probably weren’t going to bring in a still pool for that, or they were having dinner or something like that,” Carney said.
He also said the White House “went to great lengths to get as much access for all of our traveling press as we could; in fact, got exceptionally more access for our traveling press than we were told we would get.”
Reporters say the lack of access contradicts the president’s commitment to transparency. “The tension between White Houses and White House press corps over access is long-standing,” Carney said in response. “It is always going to be the case, as it has, you know, since there have been photographers in the White House, that White House photographers take pictures and White Houses release them. And you know, we’re obviously going to continue to do that.”
Carney argued that new technologies have fundamentally changed how photographs are distributed and that photojournalists view the official images released by the White House as “competition.”
“We’re not operating any differently than other White House offices have operated, except that the Internet exists,” he said. “In the past when White House photos were developed and handed out here, news organizations could decide whether their readers would ever see those photos. Now, the White House posts some pictures on the Internet identified as official White House photographs.
“Some of this, anyway, has to do with, you know, fundamental transformations in the media, of which we and other institutions are simply participants, but we did not create the Internet,” he added.
The Obama White House has come under increasing fire in recent weeks for restricting photojournalists from events labeled “private,” opting instead to release images of such events taken by official White House photographers.
In a New York Times op-ed today, Associated Press Photography Director Santiago Lyon criticized the administration’s “Orwellian image control.”
“Manifestly undemocratic, in contrast, is the way Mr. Obama’s administration – in hypocritical defiance of the principles of openness and transparency he campaigned on – has systematically tried to bypass the media by releasing a sanitized visual record of his activities through official photographs and videos, at the expense of independent journalistic access,” Lyon wrote.
Carney vowed to work with reporters to address their concerns. “We have been meeting with representatives of the White House correspondents, and we will continue to work to increase access, to be responsive to some of these concerns,” he said. “What I can promise you, though, is that there will continue to be occasions with this president, as there have been with everyone of his 43 predecessors, where there are meetings and events and moments that are not covered by the outside press.
“We will not create a day that has never existed, at least in modern times, when everyone in the White House press corps is satisfied with the amount of access they get to the president,” he said. “That would be, I think, impossible to expect.”