USA Today on Monday joined a growing list of news agencies boycotting the use of official White House photography over what it says is an unprecedented lack of access to the president.
USA Today Deputy Director of Multimedia Andrew Scott said in a memo to staff the publication will not use “handout photos originating from the White House Press Office, except in very extraordinary circumstances.”
USA Today is now one of more than 35 news agencies refusing to use White House photography.
Last Thursday, a coalition of major news organizations including the Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, ABC, and CNN protested their photojournalists being locked out of public events in a letter to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
“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.”
The news organizations say their photographers are barred from “private” events, only to have official White House photographers cover them.
Photojournalists have only been given unguarded access to President Barack Obama twice in his first and second terms, according to the organizations. They have been barred from covering President Obama’s meetings with Pakistani human rights activist Malala Yousafzai and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, among other events.
The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) also joined the protest.
“Media organizations including NPPA have been keeping track of all the times on the president’s schedule when something has been marked ‘private,’ or when there’s been a news lid issued by the Press Office, only to find a White House photograph from the event show up a short time later on its official Web site,” NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher said.
White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest defended the administration’s policy.
“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 during a press briefing Friday. “I understand why that is a source of some consternation to the people in this room, but to the American public, that is a clear win.”
The administration also released a photo of Obama signing a law, surrounded by a gaggle of photojournalists.
The complaints against the Obama administration are not new. The Committee to Protect Journalists released a scathing report last month on the Obama administration’s efforts to control media coverage and its image.
The report, written by former Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr., said the White House has harnessed in-house media to “dispense to the public large amounts of favorable information and images generated by [Obama’s] administration, while limiting its exposure to probing by the press.”
The Times’ David Sanger told Downie the Obama administration is the “most closed, control-freak administration” he has ever covered.
“He’s the least transparent of the seven presidents I’ve covered in terms of how he does his daily business,” ABC News White House correspondent Ann Compton told Downie.
Other reporters described the Obama administration’s “across the board hostility” to press, overblown reactions to stories perceived as negative, and an overwhelming need to control its message.