On Monday, USA Today became the latest news organization refusing to use official White House photos to protest restrictions of press access.
USA Today’s Deputy Director of Multimedia, Andrew Scott, explained the paper’s decision in a memo to the staff:
We do not publish, either in print or online, handout photos originating from the White House Press Office, except in very extraordinary circumstances. In those very rare instances where a handout image from the White House image has been made under legitimate national security restrictions and is also of very high news value, the use needs to be approved in advance by consulting with Dave Callaway, David Colton, Owen Ullmann, Susan Weiss, Dave Teeuwen, Patty Michalski or me prior to publication.
The functions of the President at the White House are fundamentally public in nature, and should be documented for the public by independent news organizations, not solely by the White House Press Office.
The journalistic community feels so strongly about this that 38 news organizations, including Gannett, have sent a letter of formal protest to the White House.
The backlash against the White House began last Thursday when 38 news outlets sent a letter to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney protesting the limited access photographers were being granted to President Obama:
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.
The organizations said that their photographers were barred from “private” events that are covered by official White House photographers, and they called into question the legality of the prohibition.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest defended the policy at a press briefing on Friday:
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. 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.
It’s greater access through a filtered lens, which flies in the face of Obama’s promise when he was first elected—to be transparent. Earlier this year he said it again: “This is the most transparent administration in history.” Restricting pool photographers to events that they covered in previous administrations is anything but transparent. But for a troubled President, it’s absolutely necessary.