February 24th, 2014

White House Shuts Out Photographers Again. So Now What?

No photographers allowed: White House released this photo of President Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama on February 21.

The White House released this photo of President Obama and the Dalai Lama on Feb. 21, after barring press photographers from the meeting.

Now that it is evident that the White House is deaf to complaints from photographers and their employers about being shut out of some of President Obama’s official meetings, the question is, What can the media do about it?

On Friday, the White House  closed a meeting between the President and the Dalai Lama, and then angered photographers, their employers, and photo trade groups by by releasing an official photo on Twitter by White House photographer Pete Souza.

Reuters and the Associated Press (AP) refused to distribute the official photo, according to a report by the National Press Photographers Association.

The White House News Photographers Association (WHNPA) issued a statement urging other news organizations not to publish the photo, describing it as “a visual press release of a news worthy event.”

WHNPA also said in their statement, “We are disappointed the White House has reverted to their old strategy of announcing a closed press event and then later releasing their own photo.”

Last November, more than three dozen news organizations signed a joint letter protesting limits on photographers’ access to some of Obama’s official meetings.

A few weeks later, The New York Times published an op-ed piece by AP director of photography Santiago Lyon, who called the White House handout photos “propaganda.”

Around the same time, journalists confronted White House press secretary Jay Carney at a White House press briefing about the issue. Carney told the journalists in so many words that The White House no longer needs photographers like it once did, because it can distribute its own pictures directly to the public on the internet.

“You don’t have to buy that newspaper or subscribe to that wire service to see that photograph,” Carney said at the time.

Nevertheless, he pledged “to work with the press and with the photographers to try to address some of their concerns.” About a week later, on December 17, he met with representatives of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), the WHNPA, and other media organizations.

Afterwards, NPPA general counsel Mickey Osterreicher said in a report published by NPPA, “We remain cautiously optimistic that the White House will follow through on its earlier commitment to transparency.”

That was then. On Friday, after photographers were shut out of Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, White House News Photographers Association president Ron Sachs said in another NPPA report, “I think the White House grand strategy is to talk us to death and do nothing.”

Osterreicher tells PDN, “We (media groups) should be having a meeting soon” to discuss what to do next.

Undoubtedly they’ll be looking for new angles of diplomacy or attack (or both) to regain the access that White House press corps photographers once enjoyed. In the meantime, we ask PDN readers: What would you advise media organizations and photographers covering the White House to do now?

Related:

Media Protests White House Limits on Photographers
White House Press Secretary to Photographers: We Respect You, But We Don’t Need You
AP Photo Chief Appeals to Public About White House Access. Will It Help?

December 12th, 2013

AP Photo Chief Appeals to Public About White House Access. Will It Help?

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza, from memorial for Nelson Mandela. Handouts like these are "visual press releases," argues AP's Santiago Lyon.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza, from memorial for Nelson Mandela. Handouts like these are visual press releases, argues AP’s Santiago Lyon.

The White House has waved off a complaint from media organizations about photographers’ lack of access to the Oval Office, and now Associated Press director of photography Santiago Lyon has taken the complaint to the op-ed pages of The New York Times.

The question is, will the AP’s protest stir the kind of public outrage that makes the White House relent?

Last month, 38 media organizations sent a joint letter of protest to the Obama administration, charging that it was denying them the right to photograph and videotape the President while he was performing official duties in his office. According to the letter, the administration is keeping photographers out by designating the president’s work meetings as private. But the White House has been posting its own photos of those meetings on social media.

In other words, the White House is doing an end run around the press corps. The aggrieved media organizations criticized the administration for its lack of transparency, and dismissed the White House photos as “visual press releases.” The news organizations asked for a meeting with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney to discuss removing the restrictions.

Through one of his deputies, Carney’s response boiled down to: We’re keeping the public plenty informed, so take a hike.

With Lyon’s Op-ed piece to the Times, AP is hoping to get a more sympathetic hearing in the court of public opinion.

Carney “missed the point entirely” with his dismissive response to the protest letter, Lyon writes. From there, he reiterates the point that White House photos are visual press releases, not journalism. The official photos “propagate an idealized portrayal of events on Pennsylvania Avenue,” he writes.

After arguing the merits of images by independent news photographers, Lyon concludes: “Until the White House revisits its draconian restrictions on photojournalists’ access to the president, information-savvy citizens, too, would be wise to treat those handout photos for what they are: propaganda.”

And he’s exactly right. But it’s hard to imagine a public clamor on AP’s behalf for two reasons. First, when it comes to Oval Office photo ops, citizens might have a hard time distinguishing between photos from the pool and White House handouts. Second, the public doesn’t hold the press in high esteem these days. To many non-journalists, Lyon’s complaint might only come across as whining.

What citizens are really interested in are images of the President’s unscripted moments, as Lyon suggests in his op-ed piece. He mentions some memorable photos of past presidents. Most happened outside the Oval Office: Nixon flashing a victory sign as he was boarding a helicopter after his resignation, Ronald Reagan waving from a hospital window after his cancer surgery, George W. Bush’s look of astonishment when he first heard of the 9/11 attacks.

What news organizations need to do, besides editorialize in The New York Times, is redouble their efforts to show the public what the White House will never release: fresh, unscripted, uncensored images of the President. The pictures from Nelson Mandela’s funeral of Obama’s handshake with Raul Castro and the selfie incident were certainly a good start.

June 14th, 2012

Police Intimidation Watch: Mannie Garcia Files $500K Lawsuit for Unlawful Arrest

Veteran news photographer Mannie Garcia has sued several Montgomery County, Maryland police officers, alleging violation of his civil rights and physical and emotional suffering as a result of being “manhandled” and arrested without cause in June, 2011. Garcia is seeking $500,000 in compensatory damages, plus punitive damages to be determined.

Garcia, who lost his White House Press Pass as a result of his arrest, was confronted by the police officers after he began recording them arresting two Hispanic men on the night of June 16, 2011. The incident occurred in Wheaton, Maryland after Garcia left a restaurant and happened to see police arresting the men.

According to his claim, Garcia became concerned that the police action “might be inappropriate and/or that they might be using excessive force.” Garcia took his camera out and began recording. He was then approached by one of the officers, and identified himself as a member of the press.

Garcia said nothing else, however, but moved further back when a second officer shined a flashlight in his face.

According to Garcia’s lawsuit, the first officer “did not like the fact that Mr. Garcia continued to record their actions with the camera, so he lost his temper, became enraged, screamed, ‘That’s it!’ and placed Mr. Garcia under arrest.”

Garcia alleges that the first officer placed him in a choke hold, dragged him across the street to a police cruiser, and “repeatedly threw Mr. Garcia to the ground” before handcuffing him. He alleges that he sustained injuries to his neck, shoulder and back “while being manhandled” during his arrest.

According to police reports, Garcia was arrested for disorderly conduct. His camera was confiscated at the scene, and Garcia was taken to a police station, where he alleges that he saw one of the officers remove the battery and memory card from his camera. The camera was eventually returned without the memory card.

While he was awaiting trial, the Secret Service became aware of the charges against him and revoked his White House Press Pass. He was unable to work as a result, he says in his lawsuit.

Finally, Garcia came before a judge in a bench trial last December and was found not guilty on all charges against him.

Garcia is suing on the grounds that the Montgomery Count police officers violated his First, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The violations included unlawful arrest, false imprisonment, cruel and unusual punishment, malicious prosecution, deprivation of his property without due process, and interference with his right of free speech.

In addition to naming the arresting officers as defendants, Garcia is also suing Montgomery County and its chief of police for failing to properly train police officers–specifically, for failing to train them that openly recording a police officer is a lawful act in Maryland.

Garcia also alleges that the county is indifferent to police misconduct, and that it fails to investigate complaints of misconduct or discipline officers who engage in misconduct. (Garcia says his complaints to the police about misconduct of the officers were ignored.)

Garcia filed his claim in the US District Court for the District of Maryland, Southern Division. (Case 8:12-cv-01711-DKC)

A trial date has not been set.

Related articles:

Police Intimidation Watch: Photog Sues a Long Island Police Department
Police Intimidation Watch: Photographers Cleared of Charges in New York, Seattle
Department of Justice Warns Police Against Violating Photographers’ Rights