President Obama is learning about the perils of taking memorial-service selfies the hard way. In addition to convincing the world that Michelle is mad at him (which the photographer denies), the president’s self-portrait with the Danish prime minister inspired a new round of criticism about the White House’s restrictions on photographers. Associated Press photojournalist Santiago Lyon writes in a New York Times op-ed that the moment “captured the democratization of image making.” This contrasts with the White’s House’s allegedly undemocratic habit of keeping photojournalists out of events by labeling them “private,” only to release flattering official images hours later, “in hypocritical defiance of the principles of openness and transparency [Obama] campaigned on.”
Last month, 38 major news organizations sent a letter to the White House protesting its photo policy, but Lyon says the administration “missed the point entirely” when it responded that we see plenty of photos of the president (and he doesn’t even get into the White House’s passive-aggressive tweet). Lyon writes:
The official photographs the White House hands out are but visual news releases. Taken by government employees (mostly former photojournalists), they are well composed, compelling and even intimate glimpses of presidential life. They also show the president in the best possible light, as you’d expect from an administration highly conscious of the power of the image at a time of instant sharing of photos and videos.
By no stretch of the imagination are these images journalism. Rather, they propagate an idealized portrayal of events on Pennsylvania Avenue.
If you take this practice to its logical conclusion, why have news conferences? Why give reporters any access to the White House? It would be easier to just have a daily statement from the president (like his recorded weekly video address) and call it a day. Repressive governments do this all the time.
The op-ed is titled “Obama’s Orwellian Image Control,” which sounds pretty harsh, but it’ll probably roll off the president’s back. Thanks to the NSA spying scandal, he’s already been deemed “beyond Orwellian.”