White House fires back at photographers angry at lack of access

The White House released a photo of the press photographing President Obama on Thursday night — a not-so-subtle jab at a group of news outlets who charged that press photographers’ access to the president is being restricted.

White House photographer Pete Souza released a picture through Twitter showing a group of photographers standing over Obama in the Oval Office while he signed a series of bills.

The caption on the White House website reads: “Photojournalists photograph President Barack Obama as he signs H.R. 2747: Streamlining Claims for Federal Contractor Employees Act, and S. 893: The Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustments Act of 2013, in the Oval Office, Nov. 21, 2013.”

The White House also made sure to note in the president’s daily schedule on Friday that a photojournalist pool spray would be available when Obama meets with Morocco’s king Friday.

Nearly 40 news outlets and organizations signed a letter Thursday saying previous administrations have allowed more access to meetings for press photographers, and the restrictions fly in the face of the administration’s commitment to broaden that tradition.

The American Society of News Editors and The Associated Press Media Editors encouraged news outlets to stop using the White House’s official photos, calling them “propaganda.”

The White House said Thursday it is not trying to replace photojournalists by restricting access to some meetings and releasing its own photos of President Obama.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House would not condone other countries using a government employee as a replacement for a member of the press, but he asserted that is not the case here.

However, the letter listed seven meetings with Obama in 2013 from which photographers were barred because the meetings were private, including a number of meetings between Obama and members of Congress. The White House then released photos of those meetings through social media.

“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 group said in the letter to White House press secretary Jay Carney.

Earnest said the tension between the press and the White House is a natural dynamic.