Journalists, Networks Decry Obama White House's 'Troubling Precedent' on Press Access

On Thursday, CBS's Sharyl Attkisson reported on Twitter that the White House Correspondents Association, along with "dozens of associations & media outlets", sent a letter of protest to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. Attkisson outlined in subsequent Tweets that the letter blasted the Obama administration for restricting the access of photojournalists at certain presidential events, "while releasing government photos and videos of the same events".

Politico's Hadas Gold posted the full text of the letter to Carney in a Thursday item, which was signed by "leading media outlets like ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, The Associated Press, Reuters, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Yahoo News". In the letter, the WHCA board asserted that the Obama White House's policy was a "troubling break from tradition", and hinted that it ran counter to the President's claim that his was "the most transparent administration in history":

Image of the White House, cropped from image found at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_House_Northern_Side.jpg | NewsBusters.org...Journalists are routinely being denied the right to photograph or videotape the President while he is performing his official duties. 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. To be clear, we are talking about Presidential activities of a fundamentally public nature....

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....

The right of journalists to gather the news is most critical when covering government officials acting in their official capacities. Previous administrations have recognized this, and have granted press access to visually cover precisely these types of events, thus creating government transparency. It is clear that the restrictions imposed by your office on photographers undercut the President's stated desire to continue and broaden that tradition. To exclude the press from these functions is a major break from how previous administrations have worked with the press. Moreover, these restrictions raise constitutional concerns....

The organizations and individuals signing this letter strongly believe that imposing limits on press access, as your office has done, represents a troubling precedent with a direct and adverse impact on the public's ability to independently monitor and see what its government is doing....


This isn't the first time that journalists have accused the Obama administration of restricting legitimate reporting. Back in May 2013, Attkisson's colleague at CBS, Jan Crawford, spotlighted the Department of Justice's "unprecedented" surveillance of Fox News correspondent James Rosen, and pointed out how "investigation into Rosen has sparked a rare thing in Washington: bipartisan outrage over what some are calling 'Obama's war on journalism'".

The National Journal's Ron Fournier bluntly took aim at the policy in a Thursday article, contending that "the problem is that the Obama White House is simultaneously restricting access of independent media while flooding the public with state-run media...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." Fournier included several photographic examples of "how the White House uses your taxes to manipulate Obama's image".

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center