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December 13, 2013

As Press Battles WH Over Photo Access, Did Media Cross its Own Line Publishing Obama/Bush Mandela Trip Pictures?

So my question is, what’s the point of major media companies challenging the release of exclusive photos by the White House when many of these companies, not three weeks later, just turn around and publish those photos, including…

AF1 Bush Obama South Africa Pic CNN

CNN

AF1 Bush Obama South Africa Pic NBC 1

NBC

AF1 Bush Obama South Africa Pic WAPO

Washington Post

AF1 Bush Obama South Africa Pic Yahoo

Yahoo

AF1 Bush Obama South Africa Pic ABC News

ABC

Bush Obama AF1 Bloomberg retweet

…and, does a retweet from a Bloomberg journalist count?

All that, by the way, when the closest the media got to the fun was the Facebook shot below (uncredited) of Bush in the hallway after he went looking for the press corps, and NYT photographer Stephen Crowley.

Crowley Bush AF 1

Perhaps I’m missing something.

I thought the point of the protest letter sent to the White House on November 21 and signed by those 37 different news organizations (including the ones above) represented a de facto boycott of this exclusionary imagery.

Now, I understand only a couple organizations committed to an actual boycott of these White House images, including McClatchy and USA Today. According to McClatchy’s terms

“The editors of McClatchy newspapers have agreed not to publish photography issued by the White House as part of a follow-up to concerns raised by news organizations over the administration’s increasingly stringent photo policies.

The only exception would be when access by a news photographer is not possible for national security reasons, such as the recent photo of White House staff members gathered during the bin Laden raid.”

But what about the rest?

I guess I can already hear the rebuttal, these organizations parsing whether the social time spent between the Bushes and the Obamas was actually “private” and “restricted” versus “official” and “public.” Let’s review the wording and, more specifically, the intent of the media’s letter however. It states, in part:

To be clear, we are talking about Presidential activities of a fundamentally public nature. To be equally clear, we are not talking about open access to the residence or to areas restricted, for example, for national security purposes.

The apparent reason for closing certain events to photographers is that these events have been deemed “private.” That rationale, however, is undermined when the White House contemporaneously releases its own photograph of a so-called private event through social media. 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.

As I read this, at least, the social time spent between the Bushes, the Obamas, Mrs. Clinton and the other officials present could be deemed private if we had never seen or heard of it.  Once the White House released exclusive photos of it, publishing those images on the White House website and also making them available to the press, however, the encounter ceased to be private but, instead, became “an event of a public nature,” more commonly referred to as a “photo op,” and a legitimate news gathering activity.

…That is, unless the White House felt that Mr. Bush’s paintings were somehow of a material nature to national security.

For anyone following this story even half closely, you must also know that members of the press got into quite a back-and-forth with the White House Press Secretary yesterday over this exact issue.

So my question, again, is: how much credibility can we expect from these media organizations and how serious do these news organization expect the White House to take them if they aren’t going to fully stand up for their convictions? — which I imagine would also involve, taking those posts or those pictures down.

(photos: Pete Souza/White House)

  • ninaberman

    The press loves seeing presidents together, I don’t know why. It’s interesting that the only “press” picture is of a fun loving Bush, visiting his old pals. At least he was personable with the press, even if he didn’t say anything of substance.

  • caraf

    Thoughtful post, Michael. I wonder where the money is on these questions. News agencies are in the business of selling their pictures. So access=dollars as well as public interest. I haven’t followed all of the ins and outs here as closely as I should, but has the economic argument been made at all — as in, we are losing money because the White House isn’t allowing us to make pictures that we then can sell? If not, then something seems a little disingenuous. One suspects one reason they are posting the Souza-fest you discuss above is because clicks=dollars.

    • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com Michael Shaw

      Interesting. It raises the question why the press would be arguing their case in terms of the people’s right to know. If you’ve hit on the key contradiction (and the one which explains the double-standard above), then what “fairness” actually means to the press is “a fair buck.”

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  • aSouthernMan

    Yep. They have to survive. What else can they do, given the
    option to have something, or nothing.

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