Dear Members of the American Society of News Editors and the Associated Press Media Editors:
For decades, American news photographers have captured iconic moments in and around the White House: President Kennedy, from behind in silhouette in the days before the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Carter, triumphantly joining hands with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin at the signing of the Camp David Accords. President Reagan, walking out of the Oval Office for the final time. President George W. Bush, taking counsel from President George H.W. Bush along the White House Colonnade.
These presidents have recognized that photographic access by the public's press to their leader is essential to Americans' trust in the workings of government.
But not this president. The administration of President Obama is routinely denying the right of independent journalists to photograph or videotape the president while he is performing official duties. Instead, the White House is issuing visual press releases - handout pictures taken by official government photographers - and expecting news outlets to publish those.
These are not instances where national security is at stake, but rather, presidential activities of a fundamentally public nature. In recent months, these restricted events have included President Obama meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with African-American clergy, and with Pakistani human rights activist Malala Yousafzai.
In each case, the White House deemed the events "private," but then sent its own photographs to the press and directly to the public over social media. This is, we are sure you will agree, unacceptable practice, raising both constitutional and ethical concerns. These photographs are, in essence, government propaganda tailored to serve the president's interests and not the public's.
Today, a coalition of press organizations, including ASNE, APME, the White House Correspondents Association and many others, delivered a letter to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney expressing our concerns about this practice and asking for an immediate meeting to discuss those concerns.
In the meantime, we must accept that we, the press, have been enablers. We urge those of you in news organizations to immediately refrain from publishing any of the photographs or videos released by the White House, just as you would refuse to run verbatim a press release from them. We urge those of you in journalism education to highlight this issue in your classrooms. And we urge those with editorial pages to educate and activate the public on this important issue.
David Boardman Debra Adams Simmons
ASNE President APME President