The day after a minor uproar over the White Houses' "managed media coverage" of the president hit the news cycle, the WhiteHouse.gov "Photo of the Day" showed a working Obama signing a new piece of legislation surrounded by a semi-circle of news photgraphers.
No problem here.
With the nation's largest news outlets accusing the White House of shutting down access to the president in unprecedented ways, Obama spokesman Josh Earnest called the managed release of photographs and video of the president, while banning journalists from specific events, nothing to worry about and a "clear win" for the American public.
"Unlike media photographers, official White House photographers are paid by taxpayers and report to the president. Their job is to make Obama look good. They are propagandists – in the purest sense of the word."
“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,” Earnest said in response to criticism. “To the American public, that’s a clear win.”
On Thursday, a coalition of news organizations had sent a letter of protest suggesting the Obama administration has become obsessed with controlling the narrative of the presidency by barring photojournalists access to Obama events and then subsequently releasing their own internally produced media of the same.
“Journalists are routinely being denied the right to photograph or videotape the president while he is performing his official duties,” the letter said. “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.”
As Ron Fournier writes at the National Journal:
The letter includes examples of important news events that were not covered by media photographers, and yet pictures were taken by the White House image team and widely distributed via social media. This happens almost daily.
Unlike media photographers, official White House photographers are paid by taxpayers and report to the president. Their job is to make Obama look good. They are propagandists – in the purest sense of the word.
The letter reminds Carney that Obama promised to run the most transparent administration in history. It argues that the restrictions "raise constitutional concerns" and amount to "arbitrary restraint and unwarranted interference on legitimate newsgathering activities."
Journalists understand that the president's family and national security events must be off-limits at times. Journalists also don't object to the White House using social media; those are platforms as legitimate as televisions and print. The problem is that the Obama White House is simultaneously restricting access of independent media while flooding the public with state-run media.
Again, this is propaganda – utterly lacking a skeptical eye. The irony is that Obama is using technology that democratized and flattened the media to centralize and strengthen the powers an institution, The Presidency.
Of course, it deserves at least mention that what often passes for hard-hitting journalism within the White House press corps might make these complaints over photo-ops laughable for some, but at the end of the day any challenge to the Obama administration's assault on journalism will be welcome by those who cherish the role of the fourth estate.
Perhaps the next letter from the nation's major news outlets, however, will condemn the Obama administration for what its critics pronounce as the most aggressive attack on government whistleblowers ever documented or its continued refusal to discuss how it legally justifies the existence of an international "kill list".