Press corps sound off over access to Obama

The White House on Thursday again vowed to address access for press photographers after sharp criticism that it did not offer enough during President Obama’s trip to South Africa.

During the White House briefing, press secretary Jay Carney took a barrage of testy — and sometimes shouted —  questions about press access to Obama during his speech at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service and the plane ride over.

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“I think our staff went to great lengths to get as much access for all of our traveling press as we could, in fact got exceptionally more access for our traveling press than we were told we would get,” Carney said, adding that much of the arrangements were worked out with foreign governments during overseas trips. 

Nearly 40 news outlets and organizations signed a letter last month saying previous administrations have allowed more access to the president. 

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

The Associated Press director of photography released an op-ed on Thursday criticizing the administration with the headline, "Obama's Orwellian image control."   

Reporters in the briefing Thursday pointed out the official White House photographer stood on the stage during Obama’s speech while the press was restricted. 

Another reporter took issue with the White House releasing photos of Obama with former President George W. Bush traveling on Air Force One — but did not consider allowing the press to take a similar shot. 

“Look, I take your point,” Carney said. The fact is that for a lot of those hours, the president, former president, first lady and the former first lady were asleep, so we probably weren't going to bring in a still pool for that, or they were having dinner or something like that.”

Carney reiterated the point that the tension between the press and the White House has always existed. As a former White House reporter, he said he could recall similar discussions with the George W. Bush administration. But he added the Internet has changed the way it releases official photos. 

“So the fundamental difference here is distribution,” he said. “And I can tell you, again, because of the respect I have for the photographers in particular, that I am very sensitive to the situation they're in and that all of us — when I say 'us,' I was in.”

Carney said “We're going to work with the press and with the photographers to, you know, try to address some of their concerns.”